Friday, January 23, 2009

Article III or UCMJ?

President Obama's Executive Order closing the Gitmo prison within a year contains a number of important provisions, but none more suggestive than the following two:
Section 2 . . . (f) Some individuals currently detained at Guantánamo may have committed offenses for which they should be prosecuted. It is in the interests of the United States to review whether and how any such individuals can and should be prosecuted.
Section 4 . . . (c) . . . (3) Determination of Prosecution. In accordance with United States law, the cases of individuals detained at Guantánamo not approved for release or transfer shall be evaluated to determine whether the Federal Government should seek to prosecute the detained individuals for any offenses they may have committed, including whether it is feasible to prosecute such individuals before a court established pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, and the Review participants shall in turn take the necessary and appropriate steps based on such determinations.
Taken together, these provisions leave open three possibilities for trial:
(1) Prosecution before an ordinary (federal Article III) civilian court (or a special court presided over by an Article III judge but following the normal procedures of civilian federal courts in hearing ordinary criminal cases);
(2) Prosecution before a court martial under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ);
or
(3) Prosecution before a special military commission that nonetheless affords the same core protections as a court martial under the UCMJ.

As a practical matter, however, I believe that political pressure will lead the Obama Administration to conduct prosecutions, if any, before Article III courts alone. There is no real difference between options (2) and (3). But for that very reason, the Administration will almost certainly want to avoid the stigma of using a "special" military commission. That would look too much like the Bush approach.

Meanwhile, for those in the know, a court martial under the UCMJ would be acceptable--and legal under common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions--but the problem is that the difference between a court martial and a military commission is not well understood by the international public at large. Each would be portrayed as something falling short of an ordinary civilian court, and it is important to remember that a basic goal of ordering the closing of Gitmo is to win a symbolic victory in the worldwide court of public opinion. Indeed, the Executive Order essentially says as much by invoking the "foreign policy interests" to be served by closing the Gitmo detention facility.

In principle, of course, the Administration could build and maintain a humane prison at Gitmo, with all the procedural due process imaginable. But the President is aware that ANY prison at Gitmo is now irrevocably tainted by the Bush policies. So too, I think, will be ANY military procedure for determining guilt for war crimes. Thus, while the Executive Order leaves open the possibility of trials outside of Article III fora, it would be very surprising if the Obama Administration were actually to conduct any.

Posted by Mike Dorf

9 comments:

Ricky said...

I'm a little surprised at your take on the relative world-public-relations value of courts martial vs. "military commissions." I would have thought that the tripartite distinction between civilian, military, & "Bush" procedures was fairly well established in the public mind (being a member of the general public myself and all).

I guess where I'm coming from is that I would argue that the putative reasonableness, even in a completely uninformed public-eye sense, of the choice between (2) and (3) may come down to how the Obama Administration ultimately decides to frame the Big Picture: if they back away completely from Bush's War On Terror characterization, and decide to squeeze future military endeavors into a Conventional War framing, then it makes sense to throw the majority of Iraqi/Afghani terrorism suspects into the "military prisoner" bucket, where (I would argue) everyone will understand the appropriateness of courts martial, and leave KSM and other "masterminds" as exceptions.

Do you smell what I'm cooking?

Michael C. Dorf said...

In response to Ricky, what I'd say is:
1) Any reader of DoL is, by definition, not part of the "general" public;
and somewhat more seriously
2) I'm making a prediction based on my sense of where the public dialogue is, and I certainly could be wrong about that;
3) But part of what leads me to where I end up is the framing of much of the critique of Bush as using a "war" paradigm rather than a "crime" paradigm;
4) That said, Obama has also been speaking about a "war" on terrorists.

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狗熊克星 said...

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當中岳庭是非常成功的一個例子,天生有點雞胸,為了挽救大小奶的窘況,以及順便解決雞胸的困擾,所以才會決定進行隆乳,在和醫師充份的討論之後決定了隆乳手術的流程,這是一個十分成功的手術,若您也想要有美美的胸型歡迎來電洽詢。