HOWARD DEAN wants Osama bin Laden to get 30 years to life. No hanging by the neck until dead. No firing squad. Not even a lethal injection for being the mastermind behind the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans.
That's the upshot of Dean's exchange with Chris Matthews last night, an exchange ignored--and in one case glossed over--by a Dean-friendly press.
MATTHEWS: Who should try Osama bin Laden if we catch him? We or the World Court?
DEAN: I don't think it makes a lot of difference. I'm happy . . .
MATTHEWS: But who would you like to, if you were president of the United States, would you insist on trying him, since he was involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, or would you let the Hague do it?
DEAN: You know, the truth is it doesn't make a lot of difference to me as long as he is brought to justice. I think that's the critical part of that.
MATTHEWS: How about Saddam Hussein? Should we try him in criminal and execute him?
DEAN: Again, we are allowing the Bosnian war criminals to be tried at the International Court in the Hague. That suits me fine. As long as they're brought to justice and tried, and so far we haven't had to have that discussion because the president has not been able to find either one of them.
Incredibly, most Tuesday morning papers ignored this exchange, and the Boston Globe's Susan Schweitzer reported it this way: "Asked whether Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein should be tried in the United States or the Hague should they be captured, Dean responded that the issue was premature for discussion because the "the president can't find either one of them."
The issue matters, of course, because the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, like the Tribunal impaneled for Rwanda, cannot impose the death penalty. Though both Matthews and Dean seem ill-informed on the nature of such proceedings, the key fact is that no death penalty will ever be imposed on a terrorist who gets himself before an international tribunal sponsored by the United Nations. (The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court also rejects the death penalty.)
Dean's ignorance on the matter isn't the major point of the exchange. His indifference to the idea of bin Laden being brought to America is a stunning display of his detachment from the war on terror.
Republicans hope that Dean doesn't self-destruct before he gets the nomination, but the country ought to be getting all of Dean's quotes, not just those the reporters think make good copy.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.