Monday, January 09, 2006

The U.S. vs. Salim Hamdan

The New York Times Magazine’s excellent cover story this week concerns Salim Hamdan, who worked for Osama bin Laden before his capture in Afghanistan several weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

Herewith the “nut” paragraph:

This spring, the detainee's lawyers will have the chance to make their case to the Supreme Court, when it hears Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The name alone guarantees that it will be one of the most closely watched arguments of the year, and the eventual ruling will have far-reaching implications not just for Hamdan and the rest of the Guantanamo detainees, but also for presidential war powers and quite possibly for the future of democracy in the Middle East. If the war on terror is, at its heart, a battle to show the Islamic world that there is an alternative to oppressive theocracies and autocratic dictators, nothing is more important than how the United States government dispenses justice to detainees like Salim Hamdan. Until now, America's wartime practice has been to hold onto captured combatants until the end of hostilities, when there is no longer a threat of them returning to the battlefield. In this case, though, the battlefield is unmapped and the hostilities could continue for decades. For the moment, the government has broadly classified nearly all of the more than 500 detainees at Guantanamo as enemy combatants, but eventually it's going to have to start sorting them out. This will entail answering some difficult questions. Are all Muslim men who answered the call to jihad equally guilty? Which detainees represent a threat to the United States? Who is worth prosecuting, and how?

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