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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 6, Issue 10: March 8, 2004

  1. Do Military Tribunals Play Into Hands of Terrorists?
  2. Haitian Democracy Undermined by U.S. Interventions
  3. How Canada -- and the World -- Can Cut Government Spending

1) Do Military Tribunals Play Into Hands of Terrorists?

The Pentagon recently announced that it would use military tribunals -- for the first time since the end of World War II -- to prosecute two al Qaida members, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi and Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul. (Both men reportedly were bodyguards and aides to Osama bin Laden. Bahlul also created an al Qaida recruiting video glorifying the deadly attack on the USS Cole.)

Unlike in a civilian trial, a conviction by a military tribunal requires only a two-thirds vote by the three to seven military officers who will rule on the suspects' guilt or innocence. Hearsay evidence is admissible if it has "probative value to a reasonable person." Attorney-client communications are not assured privacy. And convictions cannot be appealed to a federal circuit court.

"How strange that while conducting a War on Terror to supposedly preserve our system of government and traditions, we discard the very basics of our justice system," writes Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins in a new op-ed.

Instead of discarding traditional American legal safeguards for the accused, Watkins, who is also a practicing attorney, advises that the United States put terrorist suspects on trial in regular American courts, granting the accused the full legal rights and protections that apply in other criminal cases. "In effect, we would be telling bin Laden that even after his best shot, we still believe in the superiority of our system," writes Watkins.

Watkins notes that sensitive information need not be divulged publicly in such cases, due to special legal procedures authorized by the Classified Information Procedures Act, which was used successfully during the 1990s.

"The Federal government prosecuted the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 in civilian courts as well as the conspirators who plotted to blow up New York's Holland Tunnel. The responsible parties for the 1993 bombings of two American embassies in Africa were also tried in civilian courts. And who can forget the prosecution in federal court of Timothy McVeigh, our own homegrown terrorist?"

By utilizing military tribunals, Watkins argues, the Bush administration calls into question the very foundation of America's freedoms -- the rule of law.

"Even at its height of power, al Qaida could never come close to such an accomplishment. Osama bin Laden, though on the run in the mountains of Afghanistan, should take time out to thank Washington for this victory."

See "Al Qaida's Unknowing Allies," by William J. Watkins (2/26/04)

For a historical perspective on similar infringements shortly after the American founding, see new Independent Institute book, RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins

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2) Haitian Democracy Undermined by U.S. Interventions

In Haiti this past weekend, U.S. Marines returned the fire of gunmen (presumably embittered loyalists of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide) who shot into a crowd celebrating Aristide's departure. The gunmen killed five people; the Marines killed at least one gunman.

This chaotic scene is very disquieting but not very surprising. Why is Haiti torn by civil strife? Why has democracy been so fragile on the island nation?

One factor that has contributed heavily to Haiti's predicament is that extensive U.S. intervention in Haiti over the past century has prevented it from developing strong institutions of civil society, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute.

When the U.S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, "they dissolved Haiti's parliament, instituted martial law and created the thuggish Haitian army," writes Eland in his latest op-ed. "That army -- containing senior officers on the CIA's payroll -- overthrew a democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. The remnants of it, with U.S. help, have just done it again."

In the hope of preventing boatloads of Haitian refugees from reaching Florida, the U.S. put its money on anti-Aristide fighters who, according to Eland, "have thuggish pasts as bad or worse than Aristide." So it looks like a no-win situation for Haiti.

"No workable solution can be imposed from the outside on Haitians, least of all by a superpower that helped destroy Haitian civil society in the first place," writes Eland. "Haitians have to learn to solve their own problems, instead of always looking to the United States to send troops to bring temporary peace. Racing in with military forces to quell disorder merely rewards those local forces perennially initiating violence to draw in the United States. Paradoxically, if the United States declared that it would not interfere in Haitian society in any way under any circumstances, more Haitian lives would probably be saved in the long-term and the country would likely be better off. That is, removing the reward for violence would likely lessen its occurrence.

"But instead, the United States has again sent the Marines to Haiti. Don’t expect it to be the last time."

See "Déjà vu All Over Again in Haiti," by Ivan Eland (3/2/04)

Also see:

"Avoid the Temptation to Meddle in Haiti," by Ivan Eland (2/24/04)

Center on Peace & Liberty

OnPower.org -- U. S. Foreign Policy

PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland

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3) How Canada -- and the World -- Can Cut Government Spending

Life and its problems, such as how best to reduce the damage done routinely by the Leviathan state, often can be put into proper perspective by viewing them from afar. Insights on how to reform government finances in other countries, for example, can inspire helpful ideas on how best to reform one's own government.

When Independent Institute Research Fellow Pierre Lemieux offers fiscal reform proposals for his own country -- Canada -- reformers worldwide should therefore take note. In a recent op-ed for one of Canada's leading newspapers, the FINANCIAL POST, Lemieux outlines a proposal for slashing federal spending by more than ten percent.

Lemieux begins by noting which components of Canada's federal budget are the easiest, politically, to cut in the short run. These include financial grants to researchers, artists, non-profit organizations, businesses, and foreign aid recipients. Halting the growth of the federal payroll, would also contribute a few billion. And nearly all of the federal government's purchases for goods and services (excluding remuneration) should also safely be eliminated.

In total, Lemieux estimates that $20 billion could be cut from Canada's $183 billion budget "without even challenging the official welfare state." He then identifies a principle that applies to public finance across the world:

"The old, orthodox view of public finance is that essential public expenditures are decided first, then matching taxes are raised. A new 'public choice' approach argues that leviathan works the other way around: It maximizes taxes, i.e., grabs what it can get away with, and then spends the money on its pet projects. In this perspective, the more revenues on which the state can put its hands, the more it will spend."

Ultimately, reformers must come to grips with the iron law of government spending. "The only way to control the state's expenditures becomes to dry up its revenue sources," Lemieux concludes.

See "Cut Spending $20 Billion," by Pierre Lemieux (FINANCIAL POST, 2/28/04)

To see why bad government policies gain popularity, see "Following the Herd," by Pierre Lemieux (REGULATION, Winter 2003-2004) http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv26n4/v26n4-2.pdf (PDF, 6 pp, 422 kb)

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