Friends of al-Qaeda?

Stephen Pollard says in the Times today that opponents of military trials are friends of al-Qaeda.

Democracy is a fragile construct. Our greatest strength, our freedoms and rights, is also our Achilles’ heel when we are confronted by an enemy that refuses to abide by the same rules. Circumstances change, and so must our response. Opponents of the military tribunals are, wittingly or not, al-Qaeda’s friends.

One of the many problems with Stephen’s position is that it presumes guilt, as he puts it:

Might I offer a couple of small suggestions to those British citizens who would prefer not to stand trial in military tribunals where the punishment for some crimes can be execution? Don’t join terrorist organisations that fly planes at skyscrapers, and don’t dedicate your life to mass murder.

Quite, but what if some of those being held at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, are actually innocent of any crime other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if they actually didn’t join any terrorist organisation?

Of course in a war on terror you have to make adjustments to the legal system but there are other ways of doing that than abandoning the basic principles of a fair trail. With the military as judge and jury (and prosecution and defence). the method of justice is closer to that of a dictatorship than a democracy.

I agree with the ‘unwitting friends of al-Qaeda’ at The Economist on this issue:

Mr Bush could have asked Congress to pass new anti-terrorism laws. Instead, he is setting up a shadow court system outside the reach of either Congress or America’s judiciary, and answerable only to himself. Such a system is the antithesis of the rule of law which the United States was founded to uphold.

In a speech on July 4th, Mr Bush rightly noted that American ideals have been a beacon of hope to others around the world. In compromising those ideals in this matter, Mr Bush is not only dismaying America’s friends but also blunting one of America’s most powerful weapons against terrorism.