A response to Rush Limbaugh …
Guess who has an op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post defending the use of military tribunals in criminal cases? None other than Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh is a lazy thinker or a liar and card cheat, decide for yourself which one you think he is.

The crux of Limbaugh’s piece seems to be that if Bush is bad, then FDR is worse, and that since Democrats love FDR, they ought to shut the hell up. No, really. I don’t normally do this, but let’s take on some of the assertions in Limbaugh’s piece. (Limbaugh’s quotes are in italics.)

One of the issues that has Leahy out of sorts is the administration’s detention of 1,000 or so aliens.

… and, as it turns out, US citizens. Not all of the detainees are aliens.

Bush’s order applies to any individual who “is or was a member of the organization known as al Qaeda; has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefore, that have caused, threaten to cause or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy; has knowingly harbored one or more individuals described” herein. U.S. citizens — as well as aliens not associated with al Qaeda — are in no way covered by the president’s order.

At this point, I had to question Limbaugh’s basic reading comprehension. Reading that sentence alone, it looks to me like the order applies to Al Qaeda members or other terrorists, not Al Qaeda members who also happen to be aliens and who also happen to be terrorists. If it just applied to Al Qaeda members, what’s the purpose of all of the rest of that text? If it just applies to terrorists, what’s the point of mentioning Al Qaeda? It reads like Bush wanted the order to apply to both all members of Al Qaeda (whether they’ve committed terrorist acts against the US or not), and all terrorists who have committed acts against the United States.

In 1942 the Supreme Court ruled that Roosevelt’s military commissions were constitutional when used to try eight Nazi saboteurs for violating the laws of war, spying and conspiracy. The lawyers who drafted Bush’s order no doubt relied on FDR’s court victory in that case — an irony obviously lost on Bush’s critics.

I don’t need to tell readers of this site that this decision was widely seen as regrettable, and was reached under different circumstances than Bush’s executive order. As a refresher, the tribunals for the eight Nazi saboteurs were held during a state of declared war, and the order was written specifically for the 8 saboteurs in question, not for any old saboteur we might possibly catch in the future.

Furthermore, the military tribunals ordered by FDR are nothing to look back on with pride. It’s widely understood now that the tribunals were held in order to avoid embarrassment for Hoover’s FBI. The saboteurs were caught because one of the eight turned them in as soon as he arrived in the United States. The embarrassment stemmed from the fact that the first time the saboteur attempted to turn himself (and the others) in, he was dismissed as a crank. Only on his second contact with the FBI did they actually investigate the case and apprehend the saboteurs.

After making specious arguments that the military tribunals do not violate the Bill of Rights, he goes into the problems with trying terrorists in criminal courts, ignoring the fact that we successfully tried the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center the first time, the terrorists who blew up the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the terrorists who blew up US embasses in Africa in 1998 in civil courts without issue.

Among other things, people in and around courtrooms, including judges, juries and court employees, would have every reason to fear for their safety.

Here, Limbaugh flat out ignores that we’ve tried not only terrorists, but Al Qaeda terrorists, in civilian criminal courts without reprisal in the past. Furthermore, we’ve been trying members of the Mafia and drug kingpins in US criminal courts for ages despite the danger to judges, juries, and other officers of the court. If we decide to throw out criminal courts any time people involved might face danger from the defendants, we may as well get rid of every court but traffic court.

The enormous resources needed to protect potentially hundreds if not thousands of these terrorists would strain an overloaded justice system.

As of 1998, we had 1.7 million people incarcerated in the United States. Can anyone seriously argue that we can’t handle the trials of a few hundred or thousand more cases? This is perhaps the weakest excuse for military tribunals in Limbaugh’s entire piece. We should trash the procedures laid out in the Constitution because they’re just too much work. That’s pathetic.

The government would be required to reveal secret intelligence information and techniques in open court, and our courtrooms would most likely be turned into forums for propagandizing and encouraging further terrorist acts.

Oh, wait, this is the lamest excuse of all. Limbaugh acts as if we’ve never had trials in this country that required testimony involving secret information. Guess what, those sorts of trials are handled all the time. How else does Limbaugh think we try people like captured spies? And is the fact that defendants in criminal trials may say things that we don’t want to hear really an excuse not to provide them with fair, open trials? I hope I never hear of Rush Limbaugh trying to defend anything on constitutional grounds again.

In the end, we get to the best part of the whole column. Limbaugh actually makes this accusation, which made me laugh out loud:

Leahy, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has succeeded in some packing of his own — filling the federal judiciary with left-of-center judges. By blocking confirmation of scores of Bush’s nominees, he has ensured that an ever larger percentage of legal disputes come before judges who share his party’s judicial philosophy.

Is a Republican accusing a Democrat of blocking federal court appointments? Could this be possible? The Senate Judiciary Committee was famous for blocking Clinton judiciary appointments throughout Clinton’s Presidency. In fact, the degree to which Clinton’s appointments were stonewalled was legendary. Limbaugh points out that nearly half of the judges currently on the federal bench were appointed by Clinton — Clinton was President for the past 8 years! Where’s the context for this factoid? The year after Reagan left office, how many of the spots in the judiciary were Reagan appointments? Leahy hasn’t even been the chair of the Judiciary Committee for 6 months. The fact that the federal bench has so many empty seats falls squarely at the feet of the Republicans who refused to consider Clinton’s appointments by either delaying their consideration or rejecting the appointees before they came to a vote.

The sad thing is that many people will read Limbaugh’s op-ed piece and believe it, because they actually put enough stock in what he says not to think about how hollow his “reasoning” really is. Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Limbaugh certainly proves that to be the case.

Note: I posted a report substantiating my claims about Republicans being at fault for stalling judiciary appointments here. I also posted a rebuttal to some criticism of this piece.