With the upcoming trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a few other high-ranking Al Qaeda members in New York City, I’ve been reading and listening to the arguments in favor of this move. And the most common one seems to be “to demonstrate that our system of justice is as great as we say it is.”
To which I give the carefully considered, carefully measured, scholarly response:
Who gives a shit?
Let’s take this bit by bit.
“It’s important that the rest of the world see that our justice system works.”
No, it’s not. Whether or not KSM and the rest get their day in federal, civilian court will not change one single opinion about the United States. Those who already like us will not suddenly turn on us for denying them that, and those that dislike us will not suddenly be overwhelmed with awe and respect and admiration if we do.
“It’s important that all Americans see that all are equal before our justice system.”
No, it’s not. Most Americans have their opinions about our justice system pretty well established. And very, very few of them will have it swayed one way or another based on how these admitted terrorists and mass murderers are treated. For example, in my case, I have a strong, abiding, underlying faith in the system to — eventually — get things right. My contempt for it will be strengthened by this farce of a trial (the president has already pronounced them guilty and said, regardless of verdict, they will never go free) doesn’t change my underlying appreciation for the system. I’m not about to blow up a courthouse or start flouting laws willy-nilly because of it.
“The courts have shown before that they can properly address the threat of terrorism.”
No, they haven’t. Remember the 1993 World Trade Center bombings? We caught them, tried them, convicted them, and locked them up. But they still managed to continue to conspire with their fellow Al Qaeda members outside of prison, using their legally-entitled lawyer to help them pass along communications.
Further, courts — like cops — are primarily reactive forces in society. They come along after things have gone to hell and then try to fix them up. Yes, they caught and locked up the World Trade Center bombers, but that did exactly dick towards preventing the completion of that goal on September 11 eight years later.
Here’s my proposed solution to dealing with terrorists we catch who kill — or conspire to kill — Americans:
“This is what’s going to happen. We’re going to wring every bit of useful information out of you, then either kill you or lock you up for a very long time. Here’s what you can control about the process: how and how long we do the wringing, whether or not you live or die, the degree of unpleasantness of your death, and what we do with your body after we kill you.”
These are not criminals. They commit crimes, but their goals are entirely different from criminals. And our courts simply aren’t equipped to deal with them.
These are not soldiers. They use military weaponry, tactics, and have vaguely military goals, but they do not abide by any established rules of warfare or conduct themselves like soldiers.
They are terrorists. They take the worst of both elements and combine them for their own purposes. And we need to treat them differently than we would criminals or enemy soldiers.
And I’d wager that very few Americans would have a problem with my proposed solution — within reason, of course. “Within reason” being, in this case, “directly and indisputably involved with causing the deaths of thousands of Americans.”