The Corner

New York Times Endorses Military Detention and Military Commissions, Sort Of

In today’s editorial titled “The K.S.M. Files,” the New York Times laments the good ol’ days of 2009 when, in their words, “the United States was making progress toward cleaning up the mess President George W. Bush made with his detention policies. The Pentagon was working on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The flawed military tribunals were improved, at least a bit. And the Justice Department announced that the accused mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh [sic] Mohammed, would be tried in federal court.”

Setting nostalgia aside, and the fact that “messy” Bush detention policies have essentially been adopted by the Obama administration, and the fact that the Pentagon had been effectively working to close Guantanamo since 2006, it should not go unnoticed that the Times also hints at endorsing some the of the very policies they vehemently denounced during the Bush presidency.

Devoted readers of only the Times could be excused for thinking that terrorists captured on the battlefield must be tried in federal court, or set free. The “try them or set them free” mantra, repeated zombie-like for eight years of the Bush administration, was the calling card for liberal papers like the Times.

Fast forward to the Obama administration and today’s editorial, which states, “People captured in battle may, of course, be held as military prisoners.” My favorite part of that sentence is the “of course,” as if the notion of military detention is something that every reasonable person can agree on. It is; it just isn’t something the Times editorial page has embraced wholeheartedly until now. What changed?

And then there is the issue of military commissions, which the Times has consistently excoriated and denounced. According to the editorial, trying KSM in federal court is the right thing to do. It hasn’t happened, in their view, because of Republican “fear-mongering,” the administration’s blundering, and Democratic “not-in-my-backyardism.” If there was ever an example of how utterly tone deaf the elitist editors at the paper are to the will of the American people, this is it.

After laying the blame regarding the KSM federal-trial fiasco on Republicans (first), the administration, and Democrats, the Times then seems to suggest that a military commissions case against KSM is a viable option, stating, “Trying Mr. Mohammed in a military court is at least explainable by the attack on the Pentagon.”

The use of the word “explainable” is, to say the least, perplexing. The Times has been against military commissions from Day One, even after the rules were upgraded in the latter half of the Bush administration and further modified in the Obama administration. This, despite the fact that the rules are fairer to terrorist defendants than the rules in the Hague’s international tribunals.

So what gives? Is it possible that editors at the Times ineluctably are coming to appreciate the actual nature of the conflict we’ve been in for eight years, and the fact that never in the history of our country have we given captured battlefield belligerents a federal trial, replete with American constitutional rights? Or, that someone on the editorial board actually read the actual rules of the military commissions and came to the stark understanding that they are practical, constitutional, and comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan?

Or, is it the fact that they want to provide aid and comfort to the very administration they endorsed?

Charles “Cully” Stimson is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

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