Given his position as the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was probably too much to expect that Kit Bond would refrain from joining the chorus of what David Brooks, in an unexpectedly excellent column, called the “rabid denunciation and cynicism” that has characterized the right’s response to the Christmas bomber incident. On the topic of the bomber, Omar Abulmutallab, Bond holds, along with the rest of his party, that treating terrorist crimes in the criminal justice system is to privilege terrorists in some inappropriate way:
This is not a case for a series of criminal trials, … . We should have held him as an enemy combatant and tried him in a military commission.
Earlier, on the issue of the Gitmo detainees, he had this to say:
The Obama Justice Department has prioritized political correctness over protecting the citizens of this country.
Apart from seizing an opportunity to ring the proverbial Pavlovian bell with phrases like “political correctness” applied to Obama and terrorism, one wonders why would-be tough guy politicians like Bond fail to remember the equal determination of one of their close allies, Margaret Thatcher, to deny IRA men “special status”. This status would have accorded IRA members a prisoner of war status not too dissimilar to that accorded to those held in the military system of detention and justice that Bond and his pals prefer.
In 1981 Thatcher permitted ten young hunger strikers to starve to death, one after another, in a protest against the loss of political status for those convicted of terrorism-related offenses. As Padraig O’Malley notes in his book about those events, Biting at the Grave (p. 19):
Having what amounted to de facto prisoner of war status was of immense propaganda value to the IRA. It allowed the movement to describe the conflict in Northern Ireland on its own terms … and to claim that the British government accepted the IRA’s legitimacy and hence the legitimacy of its cause.
So do Bond et al. really want to legitimate Al-Qaeda by according their members military status? Do they really want to keep on handing Al-Qaeda these great propaganda tools for recruiting purposes? For that matter, if they don’t want to glamorize the terrorists’ cause, maybe they ought to shut up about the “war on terror.” Didn’t they learn anything from their onetime good friend, Dame Margaret?
Of course, in pointing out this disjunction, I do not mean to overlook the obvious – which is that what Bond and his pals really mean to say is that it is hard to torture folks when the process is open to scrutiny. And of course, no matter what status prisoners enjoyed in Northern Ireland, Dame Margaret had the Special Powers Act which gave her almost unlimited power to do whatever she wanted. Thank God we still have a few rights left. Maybe.
ADDENDUM: Via TPM, Bond amplifies his position today:
We have learned the hard way that trying terrorists in federal court comes at a high price, from losing out on potentially life-saving intelligence to compromising our sources and methods. We must treat these terrorists as what they are–not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war.
In December 2001, the Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, was immediately charged in federal court, rather than being designated as an enemy combatant and questioned about his terrorist ties,” says Bond. “Fortunately, the Bush Administration did not repeat this mistake with Jose Padilla who was named an enemy combatant, which allowed him to be interrogated, before eventually facing criminal charges.”
He continues: “Yet today with the experience of eight years in this war behind us, we have regressed, treating the Christmas Day bomber and the Somali pirate as common criminals, rather than seizing the opportunity to obtain timely intelligence from these terrorists. This is a grave error that could have dangerous consequences for our nation.
AS TPM notes:
It’s worth noting that President Bush had military tribunals as an option by November 2001 when he signed an order establishing rules for tribunals. That was a month before Reid’s attempted attack on American Airlines Flight 63.
A search on Nexis found no evidence of controversy over Bush decision to try Reid in federal court, and no criticism from Bond on the handling of the case.
The Politico article on Bond’s comments (2nd link above) reported that that the administration already has a deal underway to get information from Abulmutallab, but that Bond, seemingly with no real information to back up his prescience, declared that that it “would take too long.” He either has second sight or, like a dog with a bone, he just can’t stop demagoguing the issue.