Did Trump say he'd try American citizens in Gitmo military commissions?

Literally, the answer to that question is yes, as is clear from the video of Donald Trump’s interview with the Miami Herald shows. The Miami Herald is, understandably, headlining this exchange in the brief interview, but watching it prompts the question as to whether Trump understood the question. Trump opposes Barack Obama’s policy of closing the detention center at Gitmo and wants to make even more use of it in the war on terror, and opposes further releases of the remaining prisoners. The reporter changes the context of the question to whether or not the military can try US citizens there — currently forbidden under federal law — and it’s not clear that Trump kept up with the shift:

Asked about Guantánamo in the past, Trump has said he would like to “load it up with bad dudes.” He wouldn’t specify to the Herald whether as president he would again allow terrorism suspects captured abroad to be transferred to the detention center.

“I want to make sure that if we have radical Islamic terrorists, we have a very safe place to keep them,” he said. President Barack Obama, he added, is “allowing people to get out that are terrible people.”

“Would you try to get the military commissions — the trial court there — to try U.S. citizens?” a reporter asked.

“Well, I know that they want to try them in our regular court systems, and I don’t like that at all. I don’t like that at all,” he said. “I would say they could be tried there, that would be fine.”

Well, lets have our own ad-hoc commission, of sorts, on the question as to whether Trump meant this as it came out. The case for the prosecution: The question came out pretty clearly, not garbled in cross-talk. It’s not as if the topic hasn’t arisen in the past, either. Even before 9/11, American citizens had betrayed their country and fought on behalf of the terrorists against US forces in foreign lands, and some got captured. The question as to whether those traitors should get a military tribunal or access to the civil court system came up early in the war on terror, but a consensus formed early on that US citizens should have access to the latter — especially if caught providing material support for terrorists here in the US, as is now more often the case. Even supporters of continued use of Gitmo have largely supported that consensus. So the question wasn’t out of bounds, and Trump had the opportunity to answer it with full understanding.

Now, the case for the defense: The conversation that preceded this clearly focused on “bad dudes” captured abroad. That’s far less likely than before to involve US citizens. Also, his response that “they want to try them in our regular court systems” has for years meant foreign terrorists already held in Gitmo, not US citizens that commit acts of terrorism or support for such. No one called for a military tribunal for Dzokhar Tsarnaev, for instance. Nidal Hasan got a court-martial because he was actually in the military at the time of his terror attack on Fort Hood. It seems likely that Trump didn’t catch the nuance of the reporter’s reframing the question to the long-resolved issue of US citizens and Gitmo, and instead gave his opinion about allowing the current Gitmo occupants access to the American legal system.

All browse while the court considers the verdict …

The defense has the better case, in the absence of any further statements or evidence. That doesn’t let Trump off the hook entirely, though. If he didn’t mean what the headlines state, it’s his own fault for not paying attention to the question. It’s sloppy work, and a candidate at this level has to perform at a higher capability than this.

Of course, if Trump really did mean that he’d use Gitmo for US citizens, that would be a very, very big problem in terms of civil liberties, and would require a great deal more scrutiny as to his intentions in that regard. The follow-ups on this question should resolve that quickly, because the national media isn’t exactly inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt … at least not in a general election.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022