The U.S. government got a guilty verdict yesterday in its prosecution of Osama bin Laden's driver in the first war crimes trial since World War II. But it's a hollow victory because the military tribunal system, as shaped by the Bush administration, remains a flawed instrument of the war on terror that contravenes the principles of American justice.
A jury of six military officers convicted Salim Hamdan of "material support" for terrorism, the lesser of the two charges against him but one broad enough to easily ensnare a small-time player such as the Yemeni. His crime: driving around bin Laden, some of the time.
The military tribunal system, similar to the Nuremberg court that tried Nazi war criminals, was convened to deal with hundreds of detainees swept up in post-Sept. 11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Critics have charged that the government has little, if any, credible evidence of war crimes against most of the detainees. Mr. Hamdan was convicted on evidence essentially provided by himself - during days of interrogation in which he was without a lawyer, statements that would have been challenged in a U.S. court.
The split verdict against Mr. Hamdan proved this much: The military tribunal system didn't result in a complete rubber stamp of the government's case. There's something to be said for that.