Is this trial really necessary?

The trial of Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was set to begin today before a five-member military tribunal. At one level, this a victory for the government. Hamdan’s lawyers were trying to have the trial postponed so they could challenge the trial procedure. However, Judge Robertson, the liberal federal district court judge who heard argument on this issue, rejected Hamdan’s contention. He ruled that Hamdan’s “claims of unlawfulness are all claims that should first be decided by the military commission and then raised on appeal.”

At another level, though, it seems difficult to believe that any effort or taxpayer money is being devoted to prove that bin Laden’s driver is a terrorist. As I understand it, Hamdan admits that he drove bin Laden for four years and sometimes served as his body guard. If this is true, there is no chance that Hamdan is not a terrorist. Bin Laden would never have entrusted this work to someone who didn’t believe in his cause.

Nor, assuming that bin Laden somehow would, is it clear how the issue could be tried in a way calculated to get at the truth. The individuals who might have knowledge of the circumstances under which Hamdan became and remained bin Laden’s driver would probably lack credibility, either because they are followers of bin Laden too or because they made their statements against Hamdan under coercion. I would have hoped that when we’re dealing with bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard, common sense might obviate the need to reconstruct events in the mountains of Afghanistan a decade ago.

What’s next, a wrongful death case by the family of someone we kill while he’s driving bin Laden?

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