Even before it was actually held the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because it denied the defendant such fundamental rights as examining all the evidence against him or confronting his accusers. Nevertheless, so flimsy was the government's case that even with the cards stacked against him, Guantánamo's star inmate, Bin Laden's onetime chauffeur, was acquitted of all substantive charges and sentenced to 5½ years for the crime of knowing Bin Laden, which should give pause to Bin Laden's laundress, the U.S. officials who consorted with him in his mudjadeen days and any Halliburton executives who may have done business with him before he became the pariah that he is today.
Since the hapless Yemeni chauffeur has already been under detention for 5 years, his sentence was the closest that the military court (called a "commission" in Bushian Newspeak) could come to complete acquittal without embarrassing its commander-in-chief beyond all measure and exposing the national disgrace that is Guantánamo. Though they came pretty close to doing precisely that. If GITMO's "top terrorist" merited 5½ years, what will the small fry who never touched the hem of Bin Laden's skirt receive? Probation?
The Bush administration may now wish to avail itself of the Supreme Court's ruling and try Hamdan in a regular court with the usual protections in the hope that a civilian jury may be less impartial and more lynch-proned than was the six-man jury of military officers handpicked by the Pentagon for the first "war crimes" trial in 50 years.
Hamdan will have completed his sentence by January 2009 and should be released then. Except that he won't be. The government has already announced that it intends to confine him indefinitely in "preventive custody" (the U.S. equivalent of Castro's peligrosidad). So, then, why was a trial held in the first place? For appearances' sake? Well, since it was an unconstitutional process as well as an irrelevant one, how exactly was justice served by it? Ironically, not even Bush's purposes were served by it.
What follows now? Hundreds of more irrelevant trials with irrelevant verdicts? The further refinement of a Castro-like state in the 45 sq. miles of Cuban soil that is not controlled by Castro?
We have seen many extraordinary things over the last 50 years. One of the most shocking was the "when in Cuba do as Castro does" policy which the Americans have adopted in running Guantánamo Naval Base. This was formerly the only area of Cuba where the Rule of Law was still upheld even if its mere existence was a legal travesty. Now justice is a fugitive there as much as it is anywhere else in Cuba.
The Supreme Court Ends the Other Tyranny on Cuban Soil
Ex Post Facto Laws Are Unconstitutional