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Those Pesky Old Term Papers

Where’d that footnote go? (h/t Bright Green Pants)

Right now, as Congress is finishing its folding in the face of Bush’s bluster yet again work on appropriations bills to beat the holiday rush, lots of students are finishing up term papers under the same kind of pressure. High school students, undergrads, and grad students alike are all chanting the end-of-the-term refrain: "Gotta get it written and turned in, so I can enjoy the vacation. "

Sadly, most of the papers — no matter how finely written they may be — are written, read, graded, returned, and forgotten. I know — it’s sad to think about it that way, but that’s what usually happens. All that effort, and then . . . crickets.


Every so often, though, there’s that one really interesting paper that resurfaces, years later.

Back in 2002, a master’s degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration’s plan to use military commissions to try Guantánamo suspects, concluding that “even a good military tribunal is a bad idea.”

It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author’s big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The system, Judge Kohlmann wrote in 2002, would face criticism for the “apparent lack of independence” of military judges and would have “credibility problems,” the very argument made by Guantánamo’s critics.

He said it would be better to try terrorism suspects in federal courts in the United States. “Unnecessary use of military tribunals in the face of reasonable international criticism,” he wrote, “is an ill-advised move.”

The paper is becoming a reference work of sorts in the curious history of Guantánamo, which includes a number of former officials who have become outspoken critics, including several former intelligence officers and a former chief military prosecutor.

Judge Kohlmann may be the only one who has switched the order, first delivering a fervent attack on Guantánamo and later becoming one of its officials. . . .

To be specific, its chief judge, as of last March.

How interesting was the paper? Let’s let the ACLU answer that one, from the same article:

Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has been an observer at Guantánamo commission proceedings, read the paper at the request of a reporter and said it was ‘perplexing’ that someone who seemed to agree with much that the critics have said about the Guantánamo legal system was now helping to run it. As to the judge’s arguments, Mr. Jaffer said, ‘He was absolutely right.’

I’ve just got one question: how did Kohlmann get his job at Gitmo after writing a paper like that?

OK, maybe two questions: does the person who recommended him for that post still have a job?

Well, how about a third question: does Kohlmann still believe what he wrote in 2002?

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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