BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, January 17, 2010
1/17/10 at 4:30 AM
The arrest and subsequent charges against the suspect in the Christmas Eve bombing attempt of a commercial airliner arriving in Detroit spark new discussion on an old topic: In what court should the alleged terrorist be tried?
The easy answer is to say that he is an enemy combatant and should face a military tribunal. Easy answers, however, are often wrong answers.
I'm no different than most folks. Every time terrorists try to bomb or shoot up some place or, even worse, when they succeed, my knee-jerk reaction is to capture them, march them out to the field and do away with them. But that is the easy answer and, of course, the wrong one.
That is not who we, as Americans, are. We are a country and people of laws. Marching people out to a summary execution is what they do in other countries, the ones with the terrorists.
The comments on our Web site in most any story of this type are that we should treat those in custody here the way we would be treated if arrested in their country. Again, that's an easy answer and, again, the wrong one.
There are a couple of reasons that bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should stand trial in our criminal courts. First, we are not officially at war. Yes, we have "declared" a war on terrorism. We being everyone but Congress, which has the sole power under the Constitution to declare any war.
The U.S. has not declared war since World War II. We have been "at war" several times since — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq twice and Afghanistan to name the most notable. We even declared war on poverty, hunger and drugs — but there has been no official declaration of war. There is good reason for that. Under a declaration of war, the president, who is charged by the Constitution to wage declared war, acquires some powers that most Americans would rather he not have. Under a declaration of war the president can, among other things, intern citizens, censor the press, order price controls and increase police powers.
In the war on terrorism there is no country to declare against. Sure, certain countries harbor terrorists but terrorist organizations know no borders. One could make a case for declaring war on Saudi Arabia where many terrorists breed. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. But we went after Afghanistan where the al-Qaida terrorists trained — and where there is little oil.
To get around a declaration of war, Congress and different presidents have used the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to invade or use military force.
The resolution, passed in the wake of the Vietnam War, says that the president can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by authorization of Congress or if the United States is already under attack or serious threat. It also requires that the president notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days.
The constitutionality of the act has been challenged but remains in effect. Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq following the attacks of 9/11 giving President George W. Bush the power to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
An even more, and maybe the most, compelling argument for keeping Abdulmutallab in our criminal court system is that to acknowledge him as an enemy combatant is exactly what the terrorists want. They thrive on the fact that we have "declared war" on them. It gives them legitimacy. It is a recruiting tool for them. It gives them the same stature as a country. To put their comrades into military stockades and place them before military tribunals gives them the status of soldiers.
They are not soldiers. They are thugs. As much grief as they cause, they remain a minority in a huge worldwide Muslim population. Every religion has its radicals and these are the radicals of Islam. But they are not soldiers. They are not enemy combatants. We need to treat them no better or no worse than we treat gang members or the Ku Klux Klan.
As difficult as it might be, we must show the world that we remain, even under duress, a country of laws. That is what sets us apart from most every country in the world. To change our way of living or to weaken our democracy is to give in to the terrorists.
Our country, our people, our Constitution are too strong to succumb to the threats of thugs. If we do, that is when we lose the "war."
Mike Jones, 581-8332