Archive for January, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This past Saturday, the Washington Post ran an editorial titled “Christmas Day negligence”. It began reasonably enough:

UMAR FAROUK Abdulmutallab was nabbed in Detroit on board Northwest Flight 253 after trying unsuccessfully to ignite explosives sewn into his underwear. The Obama administration had three options: It could charge him in federal court. It could detain him as an enemy belligerent. Or it could hold him for prolonged questioning and later indict him, ensuring that nothing Mr. Abdulmutallab said during questioning was used against him in court.

It is now clear that the administration did not give serious thought to anything but Door No. 1. This was myopic, irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

Whether to charge terrorism suspects or hold and interrogate them is a judgment call.

And then this

We originally supported the administration’s decision in the Abdulmutallab case, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model.

Well, I have to say that I am surprised at the Post editorial board’s surprise. I mean, this seems like a lot of ass covering to me. What does the editorial board think is meant when critics speak of a pre-9/11 mindset? What does the board make of Obama’s renaming of the War on Terror to ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’? (And what is the implication of “overseas”, anyway? What about the homeland?) What about the decision to try terrorists in federal court, in New York City of all places? What does the board think of the administration’s response – when presented with assertions that waterboarding has led to significant actionable intelligence – that we might have gotten the same intelligence through other means.

Where is the “deliberation” in these policies instituted by the Obama administration? To me, these all smack of a “crime-and-punishment model”. They all seem to be “knee-jerk” policies designed to appease a certain constituency.

Sure, as the Post states, “whether to charge terrorism suspects or hold and interrogate them is a judgment call” in the sense that the President must exercise his prerogative (and you have to hope that he exercises sound judgment). But just because judgment may be applied when arriving at a conclusion does not necessarily mean that good judgment is applied.