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August 07, 2008

What a waste
Posted by Ken Gude

Salim Hamdan was sentenced today to 5 1/2 years after being convicted in a military commission on charges of material support for terrorism. The military judge credited Hamdan with a little more than 5 years of his time already in custody towards that sentence, meaning he essentially got time served. I will reserve comment on the farce of a system that finds a defendant guilty of war crimes and then sentences him to time served--almost exactly the same thing that happened to the only other person to go before the commissions, David Hicks.

The biggest tragedy of this episode is that the Bush administration has forfeited one of our most powerful weapons in the fight against terrorists, our humanity, and actually even turned it on ourselves.

A shining example of this failure played out in a quite unexpected way at the very end of the sentencing hearing. William Glaberson of the New York Times reports on a remarkable exchange between Hamdan and the judge in his case, Navy Capt. Kieth J. Allred:       

“It was a sorry or sad thing to see innocent people killed,” he said as he leaned on the defense table and gestured gently at the military tribunal here. “I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did have caused them pain.”

As he left the sparsely attended courtroom in the hilltop courtroom here, Mr. Hamdan, who at times has shown a mischievous sense of humor, raised his arms and said a good-natured “bye, bye” to the small group.

During pretrial proceedings, Mr. Hamdan, a father of two daughters in Yemen, and the judge, a career Navy lawyer, had regularly exchanged smiles and, on occasion, chats. Before he left the bench, Judge Allred, said a few parting words to the man he had gotten to know in a most unusual way.

“Mr. Hamdan,” Judge Allred said, “I hope the day comes that you are able to return to your wife and daughters and your country.”

“God willing,” Mr. Hamdan said in the rudimentary English he picked up while in American custody.

“Insh-allah,” said Judge Allred, repeating the same phrase in Arabic.

Remember, this is an exchange between a man who had just been found guilty of war crimes and the judge who had presided over the trial that reached that conclusion. Hamdan appears to be genuinely remorseful about the very small role he played in al Qaeda. Allred shows real compassion for a man obviously caught up in something well beyond anything he ever intended. They then exchange the blessings of God in each other's language.

This moment could have had real power. This moment is what America is. This is the America I know. If it had occurred 5 years ago in a US court it would have sent an incredibly powerful message to the world that we are strong and we are just, and yes, Osama bin Laden murdered 3,000 Americans but he utterly failed to destroy our great country and all that it stands for.

But instead, we are arguing about whether the Pentagon will detain Hamdan indefinitely after his sentence has been completed. What a waste.


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