Timing is everything

Bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack is something everyone in our country would like to see.

But isn’t it interesting the Defense Department announced that six Guantanamo detainees will be tried by a military commission just as the race to select the country’s next president is building in intensity, with the best ways to achieve national security a prime bone of contention?

In announcing the impending trial, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, legal advisor to the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions, said pretrial procedures are expected to take several months.

Thus, as voters contemplate candidates who would take U.S. foreign policy in new, more constructive directions, headlines from now to Election Day will continue to recycle “war on terror” themes George Bush and the far right Republicans have been drumming on for years.

The impending trial reminds us of another question: If the U.S. has the world’s best intelligence establishment, as the administration claims, why after six and a half years is Osama Bin Laden himself still at large and Al Qaida’s network still functioning?

Still another question is the kind of justice the 9/11 defendants will receive. A fundamental principle of the U.S. justice system is that all defendants, whatever the charges, should receive a fair and impartial trial.

Though some protections have been added for defendants facing a military tribunal, they still fall far short of the safeguards defendants can count on in civilian trials or even under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The rules of evidence are loosened so hearsay evidence can be used, and the military trial judge can decide if testimony under torture such as waterboarding — reportedly employed on several defendants — can be included.

Americans want an end to the threat of terrorist attacks from Al Qaida and others at home and around the world. The surest way to achieve that goal is to abandon the extreme right’s policies of world domination and perpetual war, and turn instead to a new and constructive foreign policy of dialogue, peace and international cooperation.