Monday, November 16, 2009

• Show Trial Goes To New York

The significance of continuing growth in unemployment ranks has been obliterated from news headlines by an unexpected decision by the Administration: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay Sept. 11 terrorist detainees will be tried in a civilian federal courthouse in New York.

Democratic support for the decision argues that a civil trial would be a demonstration of America's might and moral certainty, and such a trial would be further confirmation that America’s justice system is the envy of the world. Republicans counter that demonstrating such civility toward foreign terrorists seeking to destroy America’s way of life is a servile and underserved accommodation which would provide a dangerous platform.

This Administration is loath to acknowledge the term "War," particularly as is relates to religious extremists. Does this Administration feel this way because the extremists have bases in various countries and are funded from numerous sources scattered around the world, and therefore it is reticent to antagonize those foreign governments? Is there a concern that acknowledging a war would by inference mean an indirect war on countries from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia? Events wherein people using powerful weapons, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, launch attacks against a country, its people, its embassies and other outposts, are not just “criminal acts,” they are Wars. Pretending that perpetrators of such acts are not “at war,” but are conducting a broad, concerted effort of criminality, flies in the face of rather ordinary common sense.

Civil trials pointing the guns of American jurisprudence at the most infamous terrorists to have ever committed crimes against America on its own soil will become venues that will launch a new crop of lawyers onto the international stage. Could we dare suspect the Administration believes that a New York City trial for these most visible terrorists will keep the “blame Bush” fires alive.

The loud crowing we hear about exposing the world to the American judicial system is disingenuous. The Islamic world already knows the American system is different from its own and doesn't care how. Most Islamic countries are dictatorships, by any other name, whose leaders don’t much desire open societies, or an American style rule of law. They know it, we know it, and the rest of the world already knows it.

On the other hand, a civil trial, and the legal hams and egos who will run that circus will expose America’s espionage and intelligence systems, and methodologies. We already know waterboarding was used, however, we can expect that it will be used by the defense, and in so doing, once again revisit the application of such torture, purposely putting the previous administration on trial.

We should note that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the five suspects prosecutors would likely seek the death penalty. This is not a very definitive statement, but he had to reassure New Yorkers that they would not likely run into these killers while shopping on Park Avenue. We should also note that Holder’s law firm, Covington & Burling, represents seventeen detainees of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In time we will discover the true nature of such a conflict of interest. More importantly, given the nature of civil trials, the rights provided to (usually) American defendants, the discovery process and the eventual appeals process, American citizens will not find the hands of justice administering punishment on these fanatics until well over a decade has passed.

Fanaticism is deaf to all pleadings, be they judicial, political or personal entreaties. Pretending that a federal civil trial will be a victory against terrorism is flailing against an ill wind, and will accomplish little but inflate the self-righteous.

True and pure statesmanship should be untainted by idiosyncrasies of politics, or political provocation, however, this is evidently too much to ask for. This trial is guaranteed to become a proverbial three-ring circus. We may also become baffled as publicity ignites strange images on the streets of distant cities around the world, as lawyers play their games on this venue in New York freshly served up by the Administration.

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