The Pentagon’s top lawyer has sent the Seminole Tribe of Florida what amounts to an apology for Guantánamo war court lawyers likening al Qaida to the Native American tribe in 1818.
But Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson made clear in the single-page letter that the U.S. government was standing by its precedent from Gen. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Wars in its bid to uphold the life-time conviction of Osama bin Laden’s media secretary at Guantánamo’s Camp Justice.
“I regret any larger suggestion that the Seminole Tribe should be equated with al Qaida,” Johnson wrote in an April 7 letter. “I understand why the members of the Tribe and many others would take offense at the suggestion.”
Johnson pointed out in the letter that war court prosecutors had written the military commissions review panel “clarifying the legal point they originally intended to make” – that the analogy “could have benefited from greater precision” but was a valid precedent.
"The morality or propriety of General Jackson’s military operation in Florida is irrelevant,” they wrote.
Tribe lawyer Jim Shore wrote Secretary of Defense Robert Gates March 25 asking the government to withdraw the offensive portion of the 37-page military commissions brief that included this:
“Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaida, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war.”
A Pentagon appellate lawyer, Navy Capt. Edward S. White, included the line in his defense of the conviction of Yemeni Ali Hamza al Bahlul, now serving life at Guantánamo, because military commission lawyers are relying on the precedent of an 1818 tribunal that ended in the conviction and executions of two English merchants in Spanish Florida.
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