Beyond Guantanamo. Chicago Tribune. January 22, 2009 – But that leaves the vexing problem of suspects who appear guilty and dangerous but can’t be tried in federal court. One of those may be Mohammed al-Qahtani, allegedly the “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Susan Crawford, the Pentagon’s senior official on the military commissions, recently ruled he cannot be prosecuted because he had been tortured. But she also said he is “a very dangerous man.” Other suspects may be impossible to convict because putting forth the evidence against them would compromise intelligence sources.
So what can be done with these inmates? One answer is to hold them as prisoners of war for the duration of the conflict or until they no longer pose a threat. That designation would entitle them to humane treatment under international conventions and spare them from further interrogation.
But after years of holding these men without a fair hearing, more than the minimum is in order. Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a fierce critic of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror, endorses the POW option, as long as defendants get lawyers as well as “more careful and regular procedures for assessing and reassessing whether continued detention is necessary.”
Assuring fairness and civilized conditions for the accused, while protecting the nation from bloodthirsty enemies, is harder in this war than in most. But the new administration can do better than the last one did.