Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama Wanted Criminal Trial for bin Laden

An upcoming book indicates that President Obama wanted to provide Osama bin Laden with a criminal trial if captured alive. If true, this is further evidence that Obama views terrorism as a criminal matter, rather than an act of war.

According to the AP: "author Mark Bowden quotes Obama as saying he thought he could make a strong political argument for giving bin Laden the full rights of a criminal defendant, to show U.S. justice applies even to him."

Well, Mr. President, military justice is U.S. justice for war criminals. Our criminal justice system exists to protect individuals who avail themselves of its protections, such as through birth or proximity. Masterminding an act of war against the United States from an Afghan cave hardly availed bin Laden of these protections.

Furthermore, it would be just plain silly to apply criminal law to bin Laden. Should we have expected Seal Team 6 to read bin Laden his rights? Would any subsequent confession be deemed inadmissible for failure to do so? Would we "out" our intelligence assets (or, should I say, more of them) so bin Laden could confront his accusers? And what about evidence that was obtained without a warrant? This would all be very troubling from a legal perspective.

I have no doubt that a criminal trial against bin Laden would have yielded a guilty verdict—the outcome just isn't in dispute. And that would make it a show trial. We maintain our criminal justice system because defending the rights of the accused is a high priority in this country, and a show trial would make a mockery out of those rights. And, more dangerously, the desire to host such a trial indicates the dangerous criminal-vs-military approach to terrorism that emboldened al Queda in the lead-up to the September 11th attacks.

Ryan T. Darby practices civil law in San Diego.