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Military commissions at work

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Military commissions at work
Military commissions at work

The group of U.S. prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility got a little smaller yesterday, when Ibrahim al Qosi, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, was released and returned to Sudan. The transfer comes two years after al Qosi pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy.

So, why isn't the right apoplectic? Why aren't Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney all over my television, telling me the dastardly Obama administration is undermining national security by releasing a known bin Laden ally?

Because al Qosi was released under the system of military commissions that Republicans demanded.

The commission imposed a symbolic sentence of 14 years in prison, in addition to the more than eight years Mr. Qosi had already been held at Guantanamo by that point. But 12 years of the prison sentence were suspended as part of the plea deal.Mr. Qosi's transfer as a result of the military commission process is the first since 2008, when the Bush administration transferred Salim Hamdan, another former driver for Bin Laden, back to his native Yemen.The transfer brings the prison's population down to 168.

Republicans aren't complaining because they're committed to the system that led to this result. (This is not to criticize the outcome or the transfer, just to note the larger context.)

I'm reminded of something Colin Powell said in 2010: "In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile, the federal courts -- our Article III, regular legal court system -- has put dozens of terrorists in jail and they're fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't borne out by the history of the military commissions. I think a lot of people think 'just give them to the military and the military will hammer them.' Well, guess what, officers in the military are obliged to follow the Constitution."