The U.S. military court jury in the war-crime trial of Salim Hamdan, former driver and body guard for Osama Bin Laden, reached a guilty verdict today. In America's first war-crimes trial since the aftermath of World War II, the jury declared Hamdan guilty of aiding terrorism, but exonerated Hamdan on two charges of conspiracy to attack the United States.
Here is how Associated Press Writer Michael Melia described the trial result, in the lead sentence of his story:
"GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver by a U.S. military court after a 10-day trial provides an indication of what to expect as dozens more Guantanamo prisoners go to court: shifting charges, secret testimony — and quick verdicts."
Is it just me, or is that an incredibly biased lead? Mind you, Mr. Melia's story is not an opinion column; it is not presented as "news analysis." Rather, it is supposedly a straight news story--the AP's news report on the outcome of an important trial. To my eyes, Mr. Melia has adopted the critique of Hamdan's defense counsel and the left-wingnuts, and has made it the lead and theme of his story.
Mr. Melia further notes in the story that "the judge allowed secret testimony and hearsay evidence. Hamdan was not judged by a jury of his peers and he received no Miranda warning about his rights." All indisputedly true, but since Mr. Melia decided to stray into news analysis, he might have considered that the application of those criminal procedure standards to the cases of Hamdan and other prisoners captured during combat in Afghanistan and Iraq would make criminal trials impossible to conduct; even though Bush Administration critics such as John Kerry and Barack Obama have repeatedly argued that terrorism should be dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Secret evidence is necessary when the case against the accused is built in part on classified intelligence, including perhaps the testimony of agents whose life would be in danger if their identities were exposed. Hearsay evidence may be the only evidence available where the original speaker is an uncaptured terrorist, a wanted fugitive, dead or otherwise unavailable. We do not admit hearsay in our domestic criminal trials, although even in those trials there are huge exceptions that allow admission of hearsay testimony, but the hearsay rules are rules of evidence, not constitutional doctrines or indipensable attributes of due process.
One wonders what Mr. Melia would consider a jury of Mr. Hamdan's peers. Would the jurors have to be citizens of Yemen who somehow found their way to Afghanistan, to work for Al Qaeda? As for the Miranda warning, some weeks ago I did a satirical Hedgehog post about World War I hero Sergeant York, in which he faces court martial for failing to give his 132 German prisoners a Miranda warning upon capturing them. Little did I realize that to the Associated Press, life imitates farce.