Jonathan Hafetz recently wrote a blog entry entitled “The Pentagon Likens Native Americans to al Qaeda: More than Just an Incredibly Offensive Analogy”
He reports on arguments made by U.S. Defense Department lawyers to strengthen their defense of military commissions in which they compared the Seminole Indians from 1818 in Spanish Florida to al Qaeda.
He wrote in part: “In a recent brief to the Court of Military Commissions Review (CMCR), the Pentagon cited an 1818 military commission convened by General Andrew Jackson to execute two British men, Robert Ambrister and Alexander George Arbuthnot, for assisting the Seminole Indians after U.S. forces had invaded then-Spanish Florida to prevent black slaves from escaping. The prosecution’s brief elaborated: “Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war. Because Ambrister and Arbuthnot aided the Seminoles both to carry on an unlawful belligerency and to violate the laws of war, their conduct was wrongful and punishable.”
Bad lawyering? Very. Offensive? Deeply. Revealing? Highly.
The filing set off a storm of protest, prompting the National Congress of American Indians (NCIA), the nation’s oldest and largest association of tribal governments, to file a letter brief with the CMCR correcting the record. As the NCIA put it:
“This is an astonishing statement of revisionist history. General Jackson was ordered by President Monroe to lead a campaign against Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia. The politically ambitious Jackson used these orders as an excuse to invade Spanish-held Florida and begin an illegal war, burning entire Indian villages in a campaign of extermination. The Seminole efforts to defend themselves from an invading genocidal army could be termed an “unlawful belligerency” only by the most jingoistic military historian. General Jackson narrowly escaped censure in the U.S. Congress, was condemned in the international community, and his historical reputation was stained with dishonor.”
Prosecutors acknowledged that the Seminole portion of their brief “could have benefited from greater precision” and clarified that they do not actually “equate the conduct of the Seminoles in 1817-1818 with that of al Qaeda.” . . .