Freeing Hamdan

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THE PLANK AUGUST 11, 2008

Freeing Hamdan

Amid the overheated rhetoric flying around in the wake of the verdict in Salim Hamdan's military commission trial, the Washington Post editorial comes closer to the mark:

The matter emerged as both vindication and defeat for the
administration: vindication, in the sense that the commission in this
case proved not to be the kangaroo court many critics once feared and
predicted; defeat, in that even military jurors and a military judge in
no way bought the administration's assertion that Mr. Hamdan was a
hardened al-Qaeda operative deserving of life imprisonment. ... Mr. Hamdan has been punished enough for his small part in what was and
continues to be a vicious and violent global enterprise masterminded
and operated by others.

It's certainly true that military commissions are far from being the most desirable venue for trying Al Qaeda operatives, whose crimes may not fall within the traditional boundaries of the laws of war. (Indeed, this could very well end up being a problem for the government if and when Hamdan's conviction is appealed.) But, in a broad sense, justice was done: Hamdan, though a very minor player, provided material support to terrorists. For that crime he deserved to be imprisoned for a period of time as punishment--at first blush, five and a half years seems in the right ballpark--and detained further on a preventive basis if the administration can convince an impartial tribunal that he remains a live threat to national security. That's exactly the outcome we got.

--Josh Patashnik

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