Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties: Then and NowLink
The war of September 11 has yet again raised tensions between American security and civil liberties. President Bush is not the first president to authorize the use of military tribunals, rather than the normal justice system, in times of war.
Abraham Lincoln declared martial law and authorized such forums to try terrorists during the American Civil War. Historically, military commissions during wartime began as traveling courts when there was a need to impose quick punishments. Such commissions do not enforce national laws, but rather a body of international law that has evolved over the centuries. Known as the law of war, one of its fundamental axioms is that combatants cannot target civilians.
It is clear that the 9/11 terrorists and detainees, whether apprehended in the United States or abroad, are neither protected under Americaâs criminal justice system nor under the international law of war. Terrorists are not members of an organized command structure with someone responsible for their actions; they do not wear a military uniform so that the other side can spare civilians without fear of counterattacks by disguised fighters; they do not carry arms openly; and there is no respect for the laws of war. Yet questions remain as to the degree that terrorists â known as âunlawful combatantsâ in legal jargon â are entitled to legal protection.