IN OTHER WORDS: Army courts

We’ve known for some time now that the Bush administration sidelined the military lawyers when it created the thinly disguised kangaroo courts known as military commissions to try the inmates of Guantánamo Bay. Now we can see why.

Several hours of Senate testimony last week by the chief lawyers of the armed services provided a condemnation of those policies. It was clear and sensible and, unlike Bush’s system, respected the Constitution and the rule of law.

The administration wants to create a whole new set of rules for military commissions in the war on terror that borrow from military law without actually following it. The military lawyers unanimously rejected the administration’s notion that prisoners could be excluded from their trials, or that judge and jury could see evidence kept secret from the accused. Military courts deal routinely with secrets and have rules on how to safeguard them and still hold a fair trial. This is not about coddling terrorists or putting constraints on prosecutors. It’s about justice and democratic values.

The lawyers also dismissed the administration’s desire to allow the secretary of defence to invent crimes for which prisoners may be tried. Charges applying to “unlawful enemy combatants” or any other prisoners of the US must be detailed in the law.