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Pentagon GC Regrets Seminole / Al-Qaida Analogy in Guantanamo Sentence

Posted Apr 11, 2011 2:48 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida recently received a letter from Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, stating that he regretted his staff likening 1800s history involving the Native American group to al-Qaida in a recent Guantanamo war court filing.

The brief in question defended the life sentence of Yemeni Ali Hamza al Bahlul, Osama bin Laden’s media secretary, according to the Miami Herald. In the brief, Pentagon lawyers reference the Indian Wars of Gen. Andrew Jackson, in which Spanish Florida merchants were charged with aiding the Seminoles. The merchants were found guilty and sentenced to hard labor, but Jackson overruled the sentence and had the men executed. The sentence stemmed from Jackson’s military invasion of Spanish Florida to keep slaves from fleeing the area’s borders.

“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,” the brief states.

The Seminole Tribe in March asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to withdraw that portion of the brief.

In his April 7 letter to the tribe, Johnson states that the U.S. government stands by the precedent it cited to uphold Bahlul’s conviction. The Seminole reference was meant to clarify a legal point, he wrote, and the analogy “could have benefited from greater precision.”

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