Military Prosecutors Compared 19th Century Native American Resistance to Al-Qaeda

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Chief Prosecutor John Murphy
Leaders of the Seminole Indians have demanded a personal apology from President Barack Obama after military lawyers involved in tribunals for Guantánamo detainees compared the actions of the Florida tribe’s ancestors to al-Qaeda.
In 1818, General Andrew Jackson led a U.S. military invasion of Florida, then controlled by Spain, to stop black slaves from escaping into the territory. Jackson wound up putting on trial (and executing) two British merchants, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, for aiding the Seminoles, who resisted the American incursion. That military tribunal eventually became the legal source for authorizing the 21st century Guantánamo war court to try suspected terrorists.
In a legal brief filed in support of the conviction of Ali Hamza al Bahlul, who served as media secretary to Osama bin Laden, military prosecutors wrote: “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.” The brief was signed by Navy Capt. John F. Murphy, Navy Captain Edward S. White and Retired Colonel Francis A. Gilligan.
Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress, who accused the military lawyers of a “backward dive into racist, revisionist history,” wrote to Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates demanding personal apologies for Johnson’s analogy. So far only Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson has publicly apologized for the comparison, stating in a letter, “I regret any larger suggestion that the Seminole Tribe should be equated with Al Qaeda.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has fought the indefinite detention of detainees and the use of military tribunals, criticized the government’s legal reliance on the Seminole Wars for holding and trying accused terrorists. It said the likening of Native American resistance to the actions of al-Qaeda was “factually wrong” and “overtly racist.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Pentagon Lawyer Regrets Seminole-Al Qaeda Analogy (by Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald)
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jeh Johnson authored the brief in question.


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