The Blood of Tyrants chapter 4′s discussion of military tribunals just became a whole lot more current: minutes ago, President Obama announced that the United States will resume military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. The President had previously suspended the use of these commissions, which provide the accused with few of the rights and protections afforded in trials. Now they are back.
This announcement is sure to be lambasted and praised by both sides. It portends that commissions are going to be a permanent part of the legal landscape. While the commissions and the context have certainly changed over the years, the basic idea behind these military proceedings has been around since our nation’s start.
Washington held military commissions during the Revolution. These military proceedings traditionally served as a “quick and dirty way” to eliminate the due process protections used in courts-marital and criminal trials to protect the accused. Commissions did not necessarily provide any fair trial protections to the defendant. Washington’s military commissions were not even meant to administer justice, they were only designed to merely examine. And after this brief examination, the accused was typically swiftly hanged.
While other trials were held under rules passed by Congress, commissions were held according to the Commander-in-Chief’s discretion and did not necessarily provide the accused with any protections whatsoever. The procedures of the trial – if one could even call them that – were largely left to the whims of General Washington. And his decision was final.
America used commissions in our struggle to found the United States. Should we still be using them now?