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NY Times Supports Federal Court Trials for Gitmo Detainees

The New York Times’ Sunday lead editorial is devoted to how the new Obama administration can and should close down Guantanamo Bay shortly after Barack Obama assumes the presidency on Jan. 20.

The Times draws on the detailed recommendations of Human Rights Watch, which offers a sensible step-by-step plan for how the notorious prison can be shut down; how to repatriate the many detainees who don’t appear to pose any danger, and why those that do ought to be tried as criminals in U.S. federal courts — not as a separate category of “enemy combatants” in military commissions or in some hybrid court created specifically to try terrorists.

I discussed the continuing debate over creating a new court to try terrorists in my piece for TWI last week.

But what struck me most about The Times’ editorial Sunday was not its detailed recommendations, which seem eminently sensible.What struck me was that even mainstream news organizations like The New York Times have all come to the conclusion that President George W. Bush and many of his closest advisers are — why mince words? — criminals.

In acknowledging that courts trying suspected terrorists may have to exclude some evidence against them that was elicited through torture, The Times writes that “it is important to remember that this isthe price of Mr. Bush’s incompetent and lawless conduct of the war against terrorism.It is a price worth paying to restore the rule of law and this country’s good name.”

Yet The Times isn’t calling -– at least not yet – for prosecution or criminal investigation of Bush, former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo or other senior advisors in the Bush administration that advocated the use of torture, “extreme” interrogation tactics and indefinite detention of people for whom we had little to no evidence that they’d done anything wrong.

Obama’s advisers have been understandably quiet as well on this issue.et, the more the public learns about the lawlessness that pervaded the Bush administration in its waging of the war on terror (for an excellent accounting of the torturous, frightening and bizarre techniques used on detainees, see the ACLU’s collection of interrogation documents obtained through a FOIA lawsuit), the more difficult it’s going to be to avoid the conclusion that unless those lawbreakers are held accountable, it will be hard for the United States to proclaim with any credibility its own respect for the rule of law.

To put it in the words of The Times’ editors:can the United States truly “restore the rule of law and this country’s good name” if it fails to bring those who broke the law to justice?

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