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Tribunals for Terror

President Bush’s Kangaroo Court

When President Bush signed an executive order on November 13 that authorized the trial of non-U.S. citizens on charges of terrorism before special military tribunals, the response from the political right was almost—though not quite—unanimously supportive.  Not only did the attorney general himself enthusiastically defend the tribunals, so did such luminaries as the conservative movement’s perennial expert on constitutional and legal questions, Judge Robert Bork (in National Review), as well as such odd bedfellows as the Weekly Standard and Pat Buchanan.  Not all on the right went along with the President’s order, however.  Somewhat surprisingly, dissent issued from the pen of New York Times columnist William Safire and the editorial page of the Washington Times, which, on the day after Attorney General John Ashcroft’s inept efforts to defend the tribunals before the Senate Judiciary Committee, remarked that “the administration has failed thus far to make the case for military tribunals and keeping detainees’ names secret.”

These responses from what remains of the American “right” are interesting, if only because they disclose what may be some evolving philosophical fault lines that cut across the usual boundaries of paleoconservative and neoconservative.  Adherents to neoconservatism might be expected to support the...

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