Somehow, Defense Department lawyers thought they could strengthen their defense of military commissions by comparing the Seminole Indians of Spanish Florida to al Qaeda. (Hat tip to the indispensable Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald for picking this up).
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.” (emphasis added).
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.”