Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eric Holder's Troubling Decision


A matter of justice


It wasn't Osama bin Laden (OBL) who came up with the idea of using airliners
as ballistic missiles. The scheme had to be sold to him by Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed (KSM).

Born in Pakistan, raised in Kuwait and educated as a mechanical engineer in
America's South, the comparatively secular KSM became fixated on punishing
Washington for its support of Israel, even as OBL was focused on expelling
the infidels from Arabia.

On Friday, US Attorney-General Eric Holder announced that KSM, the brains
behind the 9/11 plot, in US custody since March 2003, would be put on trial
in Manhattan federal court along with his co-conspirators, Ramzi Binalshibh,
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz and Walid Bin Attash. All face the
death penalty.

Holder insisted that the decision to forgo a military trial and place the
case before a civilian jury sitting just blocks from Ground Zero was his
decision alone; that President Barack Obama was informed after the fact
because the president, himself a lawyer, did not want to intrude in the
justice system.


BUT AREN'T the 9/11 attacks more a matter of national security than of
criminal justice?

Holder's decision regrettably treats what the conspirators did as a major
crime rather than an act of war.

Moreover, it provides KSM with the opportunity to turn the trial into an
enormous "reality TV" extravaganza, in the words of New York Times columnist
David Brooks.

It gives Islamist terrorists fresh incentives to target New York City.
It risks exposing in open court the methods US intelligence employs to
combat Muslim extremists.

Finally, although Holder insinuated that federal prosecutors have ample
admissible evidence against the plotters, an open, possibly televised trial,
will divert attention from the conspiracy to the fact that KSM ­-- a "ticking
bomb" if ever there was one ­-- was repeatedly tortured.

This will not play well on Al-Jazeera.

In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that alien terrorists were
constitutionally sheltered by the same protections US citizens enjoy,
because they were held at Guantanamo, an enclave in Cuba that is under US
jurisdiction. Similarly, they will enjoy the same appellate protections as
Americans.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Judiciary Committee,
said, "By trying them in our federal courts we demonstrate to the world that
the most powerful nation on Earth also trusts its judicial system."

Yet does it not also reinforce a false and dangerous impression that the
shock troops of global jihad are, at the end of the day, mere criminals as
opposed to enemy combatants?

Indeed, in an interview with Jim Lehrer of PBS, Holder referred to the 9/11
attacks, which took over 3,000 American lives, as the "crime of the century"
pledging, "This case will be treated as any other criminal case" and not be
allowed to deteriorate into a "show trial"

But where will 12 New York-area jurors be found who are sufficiently
detached from their environment to assess the evidence and render a judgment
on the law to insure a fair trial?

On the flip side, what if a jury, falling
under the theatrical spell of KSM or his lawyers, repeats the stunning
behavior of the 1995 OJ Simpson jurors and acquits?

It would have been preferable, say many Americans, for the defendants to
have been put before a military commission that could have better protected
both US national interests and the constitutional rights of the accused as
defined by the Supreme Court.

As Brooks, the Times columnist, persuasively argued, 9/11 was not aimed
exclusively at the victims but at the United States. The purpose was to
terrorize the country and force a change in its policies. The attacks were
carried out as propaganda and trying their perpetrators in open court
affords them fresh propaganda opportunities that will be lapped up by
susceptible satellite TV audiences around the world.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed previously entered a guilty plea before a military
tribunal, but now has reason to delay his martyrdom. He does not see himself
as a bin Laden functionary, but as a major theoretician and consummate
jihadi.

Holder's protestations about a "show trial" notwithstanding, the US Justice
Department ­ with President Obama out of the loop ­ may have inadvertently
handed KSM a world-class stage to rationalize 9/11.

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