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Should Gitmo Military Lawyers Give McCain Pause?

Amid the inter-campaign squabbling over the Boumediene v. Bush Supreme Court decision and whether Osama bin Laden should have habeas corpus rights comes an interesting story in today’s New York Times. According to the article, some of the most vocal opponents of the military tribunal system for trying terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, which was set up by Congress under the 2006 Military Commissions Act, have been the military defense lawyers representing the detainees. From the Times:

When he speaks publicly, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, a military lawyer for a Guantánamo detainee, is careful to say his remarks do not reflect the views of the Pentagon…

The Bush administration’s war crimes system “is designed to get criminal convictions” with “no real evidence,” Commander Kuebler says. Or he lets fly that military prosecutors “launder evidence derived from torture.”

“You put the whole package together and it stinks,” he said in an interview.

When President Bush announced plans for military commission trials in 2001, critics said military defense lawyers would not put up much of a fight on behalf of men labeled terrorists. “They wanted us to just be good little boys,” one of the lawyers, Maj. Michael D. Mori of the Marines, once told an interviewer.

But nearly seven years later, not one trial has been held, partly because the military defense lawyers have raised a continuous ruckus, challenging the commission system rather than simply defending their clients. After the Supreme Court said last week that the Constitution gave detainees a right to challenge their detention in federal court, some of the military defense lawyers, including Commander Kuebler, seized on the ruling as another opportunity to paralyze the war crimes system with new claims that detainees are entitled to even broader constitutional rights.

Sen. John McCain, who has called for the Guantanamo Bay prison to be closed, was one of the authors of the Military Commissions Act. While the Boumedeine decision has stirred up intense opposition on the right, it does have a range of supporters that includes liberals, these military lawyers and conservative columnist George Will. It might be wise for the McCain camp to soften some of its rhetoric if it hopes to win over moderate voters who have been horrified by the Bush administration’s willingness to overlook the Constitution.

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