Austin Hill: As President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder seek to award five men accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the full rights of American citizens in a civilian trial, the United States is being undermined.
I'm not an attorney.
For better or worse I didn't go to law school, but rather, I went to graduate school to study philosophy.
But one doesn't need to be an attorney, or a philosopher, or the U.S. attorney general or the president of the United States or a representative or a senator - you don't even need to be a protestor or a community organizer - to understand what I understand.
In fact, if you are one of "those" that I just listed, there's a good chance that your station in life will blind you from seeing and understanding the reality that is intuitively obvious to "the rest of us." And the reality is this: As President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder seek to award five men accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the full rights of American citizens in a civilian trial, the United States is being undermined.
Not being an attorney makes me a mere "layperson" for many in the legal profession, and therefore, unqualified to comment. But this lay person thinks that the legal profession should be embarrassed, and ashamed, of the lack of reasoning underlying Holder's decisions.
Let's start with some facts. The five alleged conspirators in question have been held all these years in a facility known officially as the "Guantanamo Bay camp." And this use of the word "camp" matters profoundly.
If the Guantanamo Bay facility were, for example, a "prison," then it follows that those being held there would be "criminals." If, on the other hand, the Guantanamo Bay facility were defined as a "POW camp," then those being detained there would be "enemy soldiers" and would be subject to rules of war set forth in international law.
Yet the thugs at Guantanamo Bay are neither "criminals," as we have historically defined them in the West, nor are they "enemy soldiers." They are something the likes of which we have never dealt with before, and as it appears to this mere layperson, neither U.S. law nor international law adequately contemplate how they should be addressed.
Some of this legal ambiguity was evident in the public rhetoric of our previous president. George W. Bush frequently stated that the U.S. was engaged in a "war on terror," while at the same time claiming that our nation's mission was to "hunt down the terrorists and bring them to justice." To us laypeople, that seemed like a U.S. president assuring the world that America would be the "good guys" even while under duress, yet at the same time we would not allow ourselves to be undercut.
But in legal-speak, Bush's remarks could be construed as contradictory. By legal definition, a war is not a legal proceeding, and what happens on the battle field is not the same thing as what happens in a courtroom.
But Holder has determined these accused murderers would be mere "criminals," and thus, worthy of a civilian trial. Yet Holder's vacuous responses to even the simplest of questions should be deemed unacceptable by all Americans - especially attorneys.
What happens to alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if he is acquitted? "Failure is not an option," Holder explained in a Senate inquiry. Oh yeah? What about that thing called "due process"? Has the outcome of this trial been predetermined? Are we to understand that "the fix is in"? Even a layperson like me can see that the outcomes of court trials are often highly unpredictable.
Has an enemy combatant ever been granted the privilege of a civilian trial like this before? Holder assured the inquiring senators that he would "have to look at that." Had he not even researched this before reaching his decision to hold civilian trials?
And then there is Obama, who also stated that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be convicted and executed. But what did that mean? Was the president merely expressing confidence that his vision would become reality, as politicians typically do? Or was this the executive branch of our government predetermining what the judicial branch will and will not do?
And a question to those in the legal profession - do you really think this is acceptable? If Holder was being questioned in a law school classroom, do you suppose his answers would have earned him a passing grade on an oral exam? Are we talking here about a mere "show trial"? Is the American Bar Association really OK with the executive branch running over the top of the judiciary?
We laypeople have lots of questions - and attorneys Obama and Holder need to answer them.
Austin Hill's commentaries appear every Sunday. He hosts talk radio around the country including Arizona's Newstalk KTAR (92.3 FM). To join Austin as he talks with Arizona's newsmakers and has a fun time doing it, watch "The Austin Hill Web TV Show" on Arizona Web TV.