The report in yesterday's New York Times that the Obama Administration is preparing to resurrect Military Commissions to try Guantanamo detainees probably sounds the death knell for the kind of justice meted out by Federal civilian courts in the U.S. for more than two centuries.
Instead, according to some of the nation's most respected legal authorities, we are about to slither into the quicksand of a regressive judicial "system" designed, not to dispense justice, but to get convictions.
The Administration's plans can only be characterized as a defeat. They come exactly two years after the President, on his second day in office, vowed to the American people that he would close the iconic prison at Guantanamo.
Since then, that objective has been immobilized by a perfect storm. The President's Task Force assigned to review each detainee's case found itself hog-tied by the Bush Administration's sloppy housekeeping: case files were a shambles, incomplete and scattered throughout the government; before they could be read and assessed they had to be found and assembled. That took time not anticipated.
Then, a Federal judge ruled in the matter of the Uighers -" Muslims from China -" held at GITMO for years without charge or trial. These men had already been cleared for release -" but where were they to go? They couldn't be sent home to China, where they surely would face China's merciless justice system. So the DOJ and the State Department worked overtime, trotting out all the blandishments and incentives only a superpower has to dispense in an effort to cajole countries to become Uighur hosts.
Amidst this genuine -" and exhausting -- effort, a Federal Judge took up the Uighurs' case. Designated innocent, scheduled for release, and yet still imprisoned for years. The judge stopped just short of a heart attack when he ruled that the Uighurs should be brought to the United States for resettlement with families here that were awaiting them.
Predictably, the government appealed that decision, and the appeals court ruled that courts could not made immigration regulations; that was the job of the Department of Homeland Security.
But while the lower court decision was overturned, the tiger was out of the bag. Congress had picked up on the possibility that exonerated GITMO detainees would soon be running up and down the main streets of America, bumping into you at the Mall.