Just in time to run during the Spring sweeps, the Pentagon has rolled out a slate of charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees for conspiring in the 9/11 attacks. Kudos to the Convening Authority for beating expectations with a well-timed launch.
Unfortunately, the move does come shortly after one of the senior Pentagon officials working on the commissions was disqualified from dealing with Osama Bin Laden's alleged driver Salim Hamdan's case. For some reason, the judge didn't seem to appreciate Brig. Gen. Tom Hartmann's taste for "sexy" cases that grab the public's attention (he's obviously never tried to run a PR campaign himself). It was a black eye surely, but you know the old saying: there's no such thing as bad press. They are riding that wave.
Now, the naysayers will point to the fact that the nascent commissions are sure to drag on for possibly as much as a year before the actual trials begin. There are still plenty of kinks (allegations of torture, politicization, lack of due process, etc.). And then there's the small matter of the Supreme Court, which might overturn the applecart all over again in the near future. You can understand the frustration of the administration: they had hoped to roll out the trials before the 2006 election, and here we are in the run-up to the 2008 election, and the clock is ticking.
But all is not lost. The detainees should be arraigned in June. And there should be frequent opportunities between now and November to remind the public of what's going on down there. Finally, justice is served.
Note: The Convening Authority Susan Crawford had planned to include charges against Mohammed al Qahtani, the supposed 20th hijacker, along with the other five, but Qahtani has been struck from the charging sheet. Now, Qahtani's lawyer has immediately jumped to the conclusion that Crawford's decision to dismiss the charges affirms "that everything he said at GuantÃ¡namo was extracted through torture -- or the threat of torture," and that his treatment was "so well documented and unconscionable that he is unprosecutable.'' But I gotta figure that this crew is sharper than that. Crawford can bring those chargers against Qahtani at any time. The 20th hijacker deserves his own unique launch, to be sure. Maybe in October?