The New York Times has a report from Guantanamo Bay about the military tribunal trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's one-time driver. Is it American justice? Certainly not. Is it justice at all? I'm not sure.
No members of the public can watch the trial. Some reporters watch, often in another building, and during the first week the camera sometimes is pointed away from the witnesses and the evidence. A reporter pointed out that in American trials reporters can see witnesses and evidence; a military spokeswoman answered, "This is not America."
Law enforcement officials told the court what Hamdan had said during interrogations since he was first detained in 2001. Some of the interrogations were by men in masks asking questions in the middle of the night. Hamdan, of course, did not have a lawyer with him. There is secret evidence not revealed in open court. One federal judge refused to stop the trial, but said it was "startling" that evidence obtained through coercion could be used.
The government's basic theory, it seems, is that the U.S. Constitution does not apply here. Hamdan himself seems to know he has few choices in this trial. He was quoted as saying, "A drowning man will reach for a twig, and I am a drowning man."
Hamdan's lawyers--he has some now--say the result of the trial is likely to be appealed. It may take years to finally decide Hamdan's fate and the legality--or lack of it--of the military system which is trying him. But the Times quotes Bob Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is observing the trial, as saying one more odd thing--that the Bush administration insists that even if Hamdan is acquitted it can continue to hold him indefinitely as it has for the last seven years.
That is not the America that I grew up in. This president has his own America, and it's a lot less free than mine.
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