On trials for terrorists

There’s a lot of hysteria over the possibility that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed might be tried in federal court in NY.  In fact, the pushback from politicians and the public is so intense that the administration is reportedly considering moving the venue somewhere else.

I do not agree.

The agruments against giving KSM a trial revolve around (at least) the following points:

  • We shouldn’t give terrorists constitutional rights
  • The law enforcement system prevents us from getting needed information and puts Americans at risk to future attacks
  • A public trial would provide the terrorist with a forum for spreading his views
  • The trial would make NYC a terrorist target

Quite frankly, I have no idea why these ideas made it out of whatever elementary school they came from.  They just aren’t serious.  They are, however, effective political weapons with which one can attempt to win votes in the upcoming elections.  Allow me to deconstruct these arguments:

Al-Qaeda is really Spinal Tap.  NYC is already a terrorist target.  For years we’ve said it’s the prize of al-Qaeda, the holy grail (if I may mix my religious symbols).  Arguing that a KSM trial somehow reminds al-Qaeda that NYC exists or bumps it up on their priority list is a bit like arguing that your amplifier is better because it goes all the way up to 11.

It’s bad symbolism.  A KSM appearance in NYC would be bad symbolism if he came to town riding in a chariot to be crowned the king of the city.  How exactly does this guy win by being dragged in chains to face justice in the very city he attacked?  In ancient Rome, enemies of the state were brought back to the capital to face justice.  Caesar didn’t kill Vercingetorix in some backwater village in Gual after he defeated his revolt.  He brought him back to Rome to demonstrate to the world that you don’t mess with the big dog.

Information, rights and a public forum.  I lump these together because they’re all nonsense individually and in any combination.  How can I say that?  Because we have another terrorism case going on right now that involves a terrorist attack on American soil, the accused was afforded all the rights under the constitution despite the fact he publicly proclaimed that he had personal knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks and he is being given a public forum to espouse his hateful ideology.  The terrorist?  Scott Roeder.

Now, others may say that his case is different because he’s an American citizen and so has to be afforded those rights and a forum but allow me to pose a thought experiment.  If KSM was an American citizen, does anyone thing we wouldn’t be having this same, exact conversation?  After all, Jose Padilla is an American citizen and he wasn’t afforded his constitutional rights.  He was tortured for information.

So why was Roeder allowed to ‘lawyer up’ without having the thumbscrews put to him to find out what other Americans were at risk?

What if Roeder’s name was really Hadem al-Salaam and he said ‘allah akbar’ before gunning down Tiller?*

This is where our current administration drops the ball.  We continue to allow the paranoid fantasies of the Cheney cabal drive how we view these issues.

No, the best way to deal with terrorists is to demonstrate how ultimately impotent they are.  That, despite their pathetic attempts they will always fail to destroy or twist our system of governance.

*Now I realize Nidal Hasan could be used as a counter-argument to this point and so allow me to present two ways to read the events fo the Ft. Hood shooting in terms of what I’m talking about here.

  1. While Hasan is a member of the military and clearly falls within the pervue of the military judicial system I don’t see how that would stand up to people who think we need to do everything possible (rather than everything practical or everything prudent) to prevent future attacks.  I think one significant point is that there doesn’t appear to ever have been an indication that Hasan was anything more than a ‘one-off’ event.  He wasn’t connected to a larger, coordinated plot about which information could be derived.
  2. I could just be talking out of my wazoo and just got beat up by a straw man of my own making.
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One response to “On trials for terrorists

  1. I think you’re right – either that or your strawman is on its way to give me a thumping too. The Brits had it right in the way they consistently treated the various organisations involved in the Irish problem as responsible under UK criminal law; they refused to dignify any of these organisations with recognition as freedom fighters, revolutionaries or anything else but common criminals. Where they might have gone slightly wobbly was giving them their own prison (H Block) instead of just tossing them in with the general prison population – many of whom had their own feelings on those who blew up women and children.

    It may also be that, by not showing any interest in or offering to deal for any information held by a terrorist criminal, a clear statement is made that all terrorists will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, no deals, no bargains, not ever. Any information that these nutjobs have will be fairly perishable or so far down in the weeds that it is next to useless.

    By keeping all dealings within the law (you can always change the laws if they become obstructive) you probably also have a better change of being able to seize and exploit the criminal’s possessions, records, etc .

    Have to go, there’s someone at the door, a Mr Strawman?

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