Lessons never learned


The Bush administration has a gift for not learning from its mistakes. After having its plan for military tribunals slapped down by the Supreme Court, it went back to the drawing board and came up with basically the same plan.

The new plan for trying terror detainees was drawn up by a close circle of civilian political appointees at the White House, Pentagon and Justice Department. Just like the last plan, this one was drawn up, according to The Washington Post, "without substantial input from the military’s corps of uniformed lawyers." The military judge advocates general were given copies of the plan this week only after it had been largely decided on.

The military lawyers were outraged at the administration’s original plan for tribunals that would have made them party to kangaroo courts whose final verdict was in the hands of the president and secretary of defense.

Despite the Supreme Court’s enjoinder that the detainee trials have "all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by all civilized peoples," the new plan would allow defendants to be excluded from their own trials, and admit hearsay evidence. While it would ban evidence obtained by torture, it would admit evidence obtained by coercion.

The Geneva Convention on the treatment of enemy prisoners calls for them to be tried under the same system that a nation’s own soldiers are tried; in the case of the United States, courts-martial conducted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The administration has been quoted, without elaboration, as saying that isn’t "practicable." But the Senate, which will be highly skeptical of the new Bush plan, will likely insist on proceedings very much like the courts-martial.

Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t the White House turn to the JAGs _ the military judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers who have to make these proceedings work _ and ask them how the detainees should be tried? After all, the military will still have the problem of the detainees to deal with after _ maybe long after _ the Bush administration leaves office.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)