Imagine you and your family take a drive to Annapolis, MD to visit our nation's naval academy. While there, your 18-year-old son, Timmy, gets into an argument with a naval officer over the war in Iraq. Your son, somewhat of a hothead to begin with, starts cursing the naval officer and making statements that could easily been taken as treasonous.
Now, what do you think would happen to the lad? You'd all get thrown off the base? A bunch of first year Naval cadets would beat him with rubber hoses until he's singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs? The MPs stop by, arrest your son and hand him over to the civilian police for a variety of misdemeanors – disturbing the peace, for example?
Well, if the Bushman has his way, the MPs can not only arrest him, but hold him for military trial. That's not the current intention of a new law slipped into a spending bill last year — but it's not impossible. According to the Washington Post, the purported need for the law is to "close a long-standing loophole that critics say puts contractors in war zones above the law."
The provision makes private contractors and other civilians serving with U.S. troops overseas subject to military courts-martial. Legal scholars say there will certainly be challenges partially because the law could easily be applied to civilian government workers and even journalists. Another reason is that judicial history has not been kind to the idea.
"The Supreme Court has been quite hostile to trying civilians in a court-martial," said Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Not only has the Supreme Court turned a dim eye towards this practice, legal observers say it could be interpreted broadly to also include employees with other government agencies, as well as reporters.
Got some troublesome reporters? Haul them up before juries decidedly not their peers.
Trials before military courts violate fundamental requirements of international law and standards for fair trial, as recognized by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Back in the early days of this millennium, Egypt was widely condemned for holding military trials for approximately 3,465,734,888 citizens. It was probably less that that, but the point is that, once in the clutches of the men in uniform, one questions the possibility of getting tried before a competent, independent and, impartial court.
Remember the quaint notion of grand juries — forget it. While Bush was certainly enthusiastic about the new toy, the Supreme Court has struck down civilian convictions under military law, and no conviction of a civilian under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has been upheld in more than half a century.
Even discharged members of the military have some constitutional protection, darn those Founding Fools. Way back in 1952, an American soldier was involved in the death of South Korean civilian. Before the military could work its magic, the U.S. soldier was honorably discharged. Five months pass. The military arrest him and want to conduct a court-martial for murder.
In steps in the Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, they said the specific code of the UCMJ that the brass used was unconstitutional. Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the majority opinion noted that the U.S. Constitution contained a number of "safeguards designed to protect defendants against oppressive governmental practices."
See, it's not that we don't trust Bush, it's that we don't trust any politician. And that's the way it should be. What's alarming is how little play this story has gotten. I suppose we'll have to wait for Timmy to be sentence to 30 years at hard labor before anyone pays attention.