Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Moderate Thinker, I Think

Yesterday I had some fun wearing one of only several conservative stripes in my closet and managed to tweak some of my more liberal friends. I suggested foreign terrorists not be tried in our federal courts. I stand by what I wrote.

My brief was these cases be tried by military tribunals. We've done it before. The Bush administration botched the process badly before and after the combatant prisoners reached Guantanamo Bay. That is no reason to abandon the military justice system.

From the reaction, you would think I was advocating torture and trampling due process and all established rules of law. Try telling that to a JAG lawyer.

I was admonished for not referring to the Nigerian underwear bomber as a suspected terrorist as if his actions were an alleged incident. Tell that to the passengers who risked their lives subduing the misguided thug.

This scenario reminds me of a time on the newspaper we had an assistant managing editor who was scared to death the paper would be sued. He developed a policy that all persons arrested by police were "held in connection" as a result of a pre-described offense. Forbidden was the specific charges until filed against the defendant by the District Attorney's office. I lived by those rules for years.

The Christmas Day foiled bomber is not a police story. It is an act of terrorism committed by a foreign national. I don't believe foreigners should be given the same rights in criminal cases as U.S. citizens when jihadism and national security are at issue. It is a double standard I strongly suspect is supported by international law.

I could be wrong.

The nuts and bolts of the Nigerian case is a slam dunk. Reasonable doubt is not at question. Motive is and will be up to Justice Department lawyers to access it from our intelligence services. Since President Obama acknowledged we are at war with al-Quada, it seems logical the best place to try these cases is by military tribunal.

Such is not the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of 9/11. Given full rights as if he were a U.S. citizen, it seems any admission of guilt by torture, the sanctity of the chain of evidence and other prosecutoral tools could be jeopardized.

 Alas, reality sets in. It begs the question:

 What team of Justice lawyers in their right minds would prosecute Shaikh Mohammed if they didn't believe they had a 100% chance of success? They would be ridiculed to their death beds if they lost the case. I'm not suggesting the fix is in, but this entire drama could be avoided with much fewer risks if tried by the military. All we need is a trial degraded by federal prosecutors as was the case against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

But, I digress.

What this subject has accomplished for me is the role I play as a moderate. Most of my life I have registered Democrat not because I believe hook line and sinker in everything the party advocates. The Democrats offer a better social agenda that fits with my life experiences. The Republicans, at least until the Bush administration, offered a fundamental approach to fiscal conservatism that resonated in my youth.

I have read and been accused that moderates are wishy washy wimps. Balderdash!. I think we are more pragmatic in our approach to life and politics. After all, in politics what works wins.

Whether it is the health reform debate -- I don't like but can live with the proposed bills -- or climate change -- the time has come to stop the dithering -- or immigration reform -- we can't toss 10 million people out of the country -- the bottom line is always a centralist position.

I fear our nation has become too polarized for many reasonable compromises to be brokered in Congress. The attack machines on both sides are relentless.

It wasn't until early November I wrote a nasty story about President Obama. Why? Because his Afghan/Pakistan policy failed to make sense. It still doesn't pass the smell test, especially because of what's going on in Yemen.

I learned early in the newspaper business to take both sides of a story, the best as possible. That's what I as a moderate do. Study the question, weigh all the factors, and make a decision.

Nothing wimpy about that.

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