By lex, on August 7th, 2008
Salim Hamdan, former driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to prison today following his conviction by a military commission in Guantanamo yesterday for providing material support for terror. The government failed to win a conviction on more serious charges, and while prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence for the convictions they did garner, the military jury sentenced Hamdan to sixty-six months. Counting time served, he will be eligible for release in six months time.
This is fair. The whole point of putting Hamdan on trial first was to validate the military commissions process. The case against him was strong enough to ensure a conviction on at least one count so long as no procedural show stoppers emerged and he was an insignificant enough a player in his own right that a procedural miscarriage carried with it little real security risk to the republic.
It offends the notion of justice to send an simpleton to prison for life merely for the crime of having been borne stupid, and it seems relatively clear that his relationship to bin Laden was a mere outgrowth of his pastoral simplicity. Nor do we lock people away for life just because we can, nor because their crimes presented prosecutors a good test of a new process. The punishment should fit the crime.
It’s good that the government can now proceed against the true malefactors of 9/11 in confidence that the judicial process works. It’s good too that a military jury can decide a man’s guilt dispassionately while punishing him compassionately. It takes confident courage, even boldness to be merciful to a vanquished foe from a position of advantage.
This is something that our enemies in the war on terror have yet to display, and the distinction between those who would savagely cut down innocents en masse and those who would be charitable to their enemies in person ought to say something to those who pretend that they can’t tell the difference between the two.