After being severely beaten by government officials in the free nation of Iraq, Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi man who threw his shoes at President Bush, is being charged with the crime of attacking a head of state, a crime that entails a possible prison sentence of 7 to 15 years.
Some people might consider the beating, which allegedly left al-Zaidi with a broken arm and ribs and injuries to an eye and leg, and the possibility of 15 years in jail, to be too light a punishment for someone who assaults the president of the United States.
But, hey, there’s another option: convert al-Zaidi from a criminal defendant to an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism, thereby entitling the U.S. military to subject him to the full panoply of Abu Ghraib/Gitmo torture-and-sex abuse techniques, and even better, keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.
After all, that’s pretty much what U.S. officials have done with Ali al-Marri. He was getting ready for trial in federal district court here in the United States, when U.S. officials converted him from a criminal defendant to an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism. They whisked him away to a U.S. military dungeon, where he will remain incarcerated for the rest of his life without a trial or as long as the Pentagon chooses.
It’s also what they’ve done with the people they have sent to Gitmo. While they have opted to treat some accused terrorists as criminal defendants (e.g., Zacharias Moussaoui, Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, etc.), ever since 9/11 the feds have wielded the discretionary power to treat suspected terrorists as either criminal defendants or as enemy combatants.
If a U.S. military tribunal at Gitmo were trying al-Zaidi, wouldn’t there be a much better chance of getting a conviction than if Iraqi judges are deciding his fate? Moreover, unlike in Iraq, if al-Zaidi were somehow acquitted at Gitmo, the Pentagon wields the power to ignore the verdict and keep him incarcerated anyway for the rest of his life as an enemy combatant.
Does it make a difference that al-Zaidi committed his act of terrorism in Iraq rather than the United States?
Of course not. Don’t forget: ever since 9/11, the entire world has become a battleground in the war on terrorism. Even better, al-Zaidi committed his terrorist act in the country that just happens to be the central front in the war on terrorism. If U.S. forces can kidnap suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and every other country on Earth and whisk them away to Cuba for treatment, then surely it can do so with respect to terrorists in Iraq as well.
To those who might claim that attacking a head of state is a criminal offense, not an act of war, there are two responses:
First, ever since 9/11 the U.S. government has wielded the power to convert a crime into an act of war. Indeed, isn’t that what the government has done with the crime of terrorism? If it can do so with one crime, it can do so with other crimes.
Second, the president of the United States is much more than just a head of state. He also happens to be the commander in chief of the military force that is charged with the principle role in waging the worldwide war on terrorism. Thus, since insurgents in Iraq are considered terrorists for attacking Bush’s army in Iraq, then surely someone who attacks its commander in chief is a terrorist too.
Of course, someone might say that throwing a shoe at the president is different from throwing a grenade at the troops. But isn’t that really a distinction without a difference? After all, we’re dealing with projectiles here. Who’s to say that a shoe, especially one with a sharp heel, can’t be just a dangerous as a grenade? Do we really want to be distinguishing criminals from enemy combatants by the type of projectiles they use against the troops and their military commanders?
Moreover, why limit the enemy combatant status to bullets, bombs, and shoes? Hurling words at government officials, especially when strung together in stinging criticism of their actions, can be just as dangerous as those projectiles, if not more so.
Oh, did I mention that al-Zaidi has also been charged with “insulting the Iraqi state”? Why not convert that crime into an act of war too and subject him to enemy combatant status for that act as well. Indeed, why not then expand that act of war to the American people, who are now subject to being treated as enemy combatants in the war on terrorism? If such a crime — insulting the state — is good enough for Iraq, which President Bush tells us is now “free,” then isn’t it just as good for the country that brought such “freedom” to Iraq. And think how much safer everyone would be from the terrorists.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.