Feature

Convicting bin Laden's driver

Was Salim Hamdan's military trial a victory or defeat for justice?

The partial acquittal of Salim Hamdan, said The Wall Street Journal, proves that terrorism suspects can get a fair trial in a military court. And the conviction of Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, on one of the charges against him “vindicates the use of military commissions to try terrorists, instead of the civilian courts favored by the anti-antiterror lobby.” It also “paves the way for the worst killers incarcerated at Guantanamo to face justice.”

Some justice, said The New York Times in an editorial. The court was “designed by the White House and its Congressional enablers to guarantee convictions” using “evidence obtained by torture and secret evidence as desired.” The process is so “stacked against defendants” that the only surprise was that Hamdan wasn’t convicted on the longshot charge that, as a chauffeur, he was guilty of conspiring to kill Americans after Sept. 11, 2001.

The man was “arrested with two surface-to-air missiles in the back of his car,” said the New York Daily News in an editorial. He joined up with bin Laden and stuck with his master “through 9/11 as terror plot after terror plot unfolded.” The verdict finding him guilty of material support to terrorism was “eminently just.”

The “split decision seems about right,” said Jacob Sullum in Reason’s Hit and Run blog. “There was no evidence that Hamdan participated in planning or carrying out the 9/11 massacres or other terrorist attacks.” But he clearly knew he was working for a terrorist organization, so there was “never any real question that he was guilty” of providing material support to al Qaida.

A civilian court could have come to the same conclusions faster, said legal expert Jonathan Turley in his blog—and without tainting our reputation as a nation that respects the rule of law. Instead, the U.S. has “left the impression that we cannot trust real courts because we are afraid of the results of a real trial.”

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