Un-American Values in the Terrorist’s Trial

One of the arguments being put forth by the Obama administration to support its (Pick One:  strange; risky; confusing; dangerous; insane; brave) decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York Federal Court is that it will highlight  American values and the integrity of our justice system. Indeed, this was about the only rationale that Administration ally Senator Jack Reed (D-RI.) could muster in his appearance with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: But here, I think, is the question. There are some obvious downsides to having this trial in a civilian court in New York City. There’s the risk that intelligence information will come out. There’s less protection of that.
In fact, in the 1995 prosecution of the so-called blind sheik, apparently information came out that Osama bin Laden was a co-conspirator and he then left Sudan for Afghanistan. There’s obviously the danger of a terrorist attack. It’s going to make New York City once again Ground Zero for Al Qaeda. There’s the danger of more of a political circus, that they’re going to use this as a platform. There are obvious downsides.

REED: Right.

WALLACE: What’s the upside?

REED: The upside, I think, is you are vindicating this country’s basic values. And it’s not to condone terrorism. But it is to stand as a symbol in the world of something different than what the terrorists represents, blind violence directed at those they dislike.This is an opportunity to show that we’re better than they are, we’re much better than they are.


All Right. That is a valid, if not exactly a clinching, argument, and one must presume that Reed was briefed by the Administration, and was not just spit-balling. But think about his answer to Wallace’s next question…

WALLACE: What if one of these guys gets off?

REED: Well, that is highly unlikely. The evidence is compelling.

WALLACE: But there are no guarantees in a trial.

REED: There are no guarantees, but under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.

WALLACE: But if someone is acquitted and then he’s picked up again…what’s the message that would send to the rest of the world?

Good question, Chris! What kind of “values” do we show the world by having a “fair trial” where the defendant won’t be released whether he’s acquitted or not…and where the U.S. admits as much beforehand? In today’s Congressional hearings on the matter, Attorney General Eric Holder stated unequivocally, “Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won.”

“That have to be won”? Failure, as in acquittal, is “not an option”? Does this sound like a fair trial to you? It sounds like a show trial to me; a kangaroo court. Yet I can see many ways an unrigged trial could be lost: after all, how many criminal defendants in the last, say, four decades have been convicted in civilian courts despite that fact that they were tortured by authorities, like Mohammed was?

Oh, but remember, Senator Reed has the solution in case Holder’s non-option occurs: don’t release him, no matter what the result:

REED: I do not believe they will be released, because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities, we held…

Wait a minute! So even if Mohammed is acquitted (though the U.S. Attorney General suggests that we can’t let that happen), he won’t be released anyway?  Doesn’t that make the trial a sham? Wallace pressed him:

WALLACE: What I’m saying is if he’s acquitted and then picked up again and held… what’s the message that sends?

REED: Well, but you presume that he’ll be acquitted and released. I don’t presume he’ll be released.

The comments of Holder and Reed do not suggest that the New York trial is going to serve as a shining example of American values, like justice, fairness, and due process, to our enemies. Their comments suggest a cynical pseudo-trial in which either the result is a forgone conclusion, or irrelevant, because the prisoner will never be released, no matter what.

Such a trial only shows our enemies, not to mention the rest of the world a lack of honesty and integrity, as well as an excess of hypocrisy.

Holder, Senator Reed and especially the President need to think this strategy through a bit more. The more one examines it, the less sense it makes, ethical or otherwise.


8 thoughts on “Un-American Values in the Terrorist’s Trial

  1. What amazes me is that Holder, et.al. seem to have conveniently forgotten that this same group of terrorists attacked the PENTAGON as part of the same plan on the same day. This was an attack on the primary military facility of the United States. Would captured pilots at Pearl Harbor be tried in civilian courts in Hawaii? Why hasn’t anyone asked about the attack on the Pentagon? This was a highly organized terrorist group — even if it didn’t represent a foreign nation per se — that commited an overt act of war against both our military and our civilians. Why haven’t military leaders insisted that the attack on the Pentagon alone REQUIRES a military tribunal?

    And to whom exactly whom do we need to demonstrate our wonderful justice system? What other nation cares? What other nation would take this same tack? And do other terrorist groups care? I think they must be terribly amused, actually.

    The New York trial WILL be a sham. At least a military tribunal would be a straightforward message about our attitude and seriousness toward terrorism toward the United States.

    And good luck empaneling a jury. I for one would not want to have to go into witness protection for the rest of my life for “doing my civic duty” because the Obama administration made such a disastrous, ill-conceived decision.

  2. Thank you for highlighting this issue. Those were exactly my concerns when I heard what Reed had to say about having the trial in a New York Federal Court. I could hardly believe my ears. No one I’ve talked to so far has thought about the problems you’ve raised, beyond the possibility of Khalid not paying the ultimate price. There’s a lot else to be troubled by.

  3. Dear Nill…Thanks. I have to give the credit to Chris Wallace, however, who immediately saw the contradiction while the befuddled Reed was talking and flagged it. I wish he had pursued it; the segment ran out of time. I’m with you: I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

    Critics of Fox should look at that interview, and compare it to some of the obsequious, lazy, soft-ball interviews performed in the past couple of years by news anchors on other networks, or Matt Lauer’s enabling act when Hillary Clinton attributed the entire Monica Lewinski scandal to the “right wing conspiracy.” Wallace, on the derided Fox, was performing real journalism. What were the others doing?

    Thanks for joining the discussion.

  4. So what’s your opinion Jack? Offshore the same process by another name? I don’t know the answer but the Bush administration status quo is not it.

    • David, I’d say a coordinated attack,organized on foreign soil, against U.S. citizens and a military installation (the Pentagon) is an act of war, not a civilian criminal act. Thus the rules covering captured enemy combatants and/or war crimes should apply. A federal courts is not the right venue, in my opinion, but that’s not an ethical matter, and the Administration can decide otherwise. But if it tries the guy in a civilian trial, cut the bull: he’s being tried to determine whether or not we’re going to execute him, period.Not to determine his “guilt,” because from a military perspcetive, that’s been decided—he’s not “innocent until proven guilty,” so stop, for God’s sake, pretending that he is. If he were presumptively innocent, then we wouldn’t lock him up as Reed described. And this mixed status is why it makes no sense to try him anywhere but before a military tribunal.

      Bush has nothing to do with anything at this point. Now it’s Democrats looking indecisive, inconsistent, hypocritical, anti-democratic and short-sighted. Time for them to accept reponsibility. These issues are a lot easier when one is criticizing rather than actually dealing with them. “Condign justice,” as George Will likes to say.

    • Okay – had time to think and discuss with peers.
      Yes, I have friends.
      Do we think this is the only crime KSM will stand trial? If he’s acquitted of involvement in the 9/11 event, is there no other crimes for him to answer? It would seem to me that while our politicians are not being very articulate, perhaps their decisions aren’t as poor as first perceived.

      True. Eric Holder should not be saying ‘Failure is not an option.’ because that sends the message that the trial is for show and that there is only one result.

      However, there is a small truth that our government is not putting all their eggs in one basket, unless they are bringing all charges to this one event. But until KSM has stood trial for all charges that are to be brought and acquitted of each one, he will remain in custody as a flight risk. The prosecutor’s agenda simply begins with the NY 9/11 event.

      Yes – No?

      Just to be clear – I agree with this article in that the people making public statements are not making very good, articulate public statements – and that those shortcomings are hurting our image and reputation for holding fair trials.

  5. Tim, I’m sure you are right. They can legitimately try him for many things; indeed, they can legitimately hold him indefinitely. Still, if the Administration sends out a Senator to argue that the trial is symbolic of America’s virtues, it is certifiably insane to then talk as if the trial results have already been fixed.

Leave a Reply to Tim LeVier Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.