On Trying Suspected Terrorists In Civilian Trials In NYC

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/Torture1 Comment

Andrew Sullivan gives the background:

When you listen to the Fox News right speak about this, they reveal amazing levels of fear. They have been truly spooked by these men with long beards and chilling eyes. They are so scared of them they are willing to drop any and all legal principles that the West has historically used with respect to mass murderers. Their fear brought them to institute torture, and to engage in mass brutality against prisoners of war in every theater of combat in a manner that will tragically taint the honor of the US military for a very long time. It led them to establish Gitmo, to create for the world a reverse symbol of the Statue of Liberty, and imprint it on the minds and in the consciences of an entire generation of human beings, whose view of America will never be the same.

I've read all the "concerns" about trying suspected terrorists in NY, in a civil (as opposed to military) trial, and none of them make sense.

For example, some fear there will be retribution against New York, a fear best represented by Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ). Speaking on the House floor last night, Shadegg went after Mayor Bloomberg personally, suggesting that the mayor's daughter could be "kidnapped at school by a terrorist" because of the trial:

SHADEGG: I saw the Mayor of New York said today, "We're tough. We can do it." Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped at school by a terrorist? How are you going to feel when it's some clerk — some innocent clerk of the court — whose daughter or son is kidnapped?  Or the jailer's little brother or little sister? This is political correctness run amok.   

It's not political correctness; it's simply not allowing ourselves to be terrorized by terrorists.  We've tried foreign terrorists in civilian courts before, including the so-called "20th" 9/11 terrorist.

Other fears are just plain silly, i.e., that the suspect al Qaeda terrorists will recruit the prison population and, well, and something.  Right, because prisoners are unpatriotic?  I have a feeling that if you allowed Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to roam amongst the general prison population, he'd end up like Jeffrey Dahmer — lying in a pool of blood.

Then, of course, you have those who fear that KSM and others will get off on a technicality.  Specifically, that the confessions that were obtained through torture won't be admissible, and they will end up getting off scot-free.

This is just as absurd.  For one thing, the federal prosecutors have already thought of that, and they have enough to convict even without the tainted confessions.  (Oh, and by the way, where's the outrage at the Bush Administration for allowing the torture in the first place?)

Secondly, KSM and others have indicated that they will enter a guilty plea, so it's not like there's going to be an actual trial.

Look, if we really hate these people as terrorists, and really believe in our way of life, then we show our strength by doing what we do.  A fair trial  right to attorneys, the whole bit.  As Sulllivan writes:

I believe this is the best symbolic answer to 9/11: a trial, with due process, after tempers have calmed somewhat, that exposes this evil for all it truly was. And also reveals the tragedy of an American government that lost its nerve and has now, under a new president, regained it.

Not surprisingly though, the GOP is fueled on fear, not strength.  And that's why you have the "outrage" that you see in some quarters of the rightwing.  Witness this from O'Reilly's show last night where he was talking with Fox's legal analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano — who has been known to disagree with Fox’s right-wing narratives on legal issues.  Napolitano disputed the argument that the suspected terrorists shoudn't be tried in NYC, citing the constitutional right to be tried in the place where the crime has been committed. “I don’t care about the Constitution!” host Bill O’Reilly responded. The debate continued:

O’REILLY: So why is he entitled to come to New York City to be tried in the civilian criminal court if he’s arrested in Pakistan?

NAPOLITANO: Because the document you don’t want me to talk about says when the government is going to prosecute you, it must do so in the place where the alleged harm was caused.

It's a very revealing exchange, because it shows how the rightwing doesn't care about the Constitution when it comes to things they fear.

RELATED: Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast takes a look through a wider lens:

A funny thing happened after the September 11 attacks. Americans talked tough, especially the bantam rooster-in-chief, about "dead or alive", or "turning their sand into glass." But it wasn't about toughness, it was about fear. We were a nation that had experienced (or viewed on television) something unthinkable, and rather than rally around the documents and laws that have kept us strong for over 200 years, we en masse reverted to the very same lawlessness that the right wing uses to characterize the Middle East.

In right-wing America, fear = strength and respect = weakness. This is why you have people like Karl Rove referring to Barack Obama bowing to the Japanese Emperor as "a gesture of weakness." Of course to people like Karl Rove, respect = weakness. Because after all, look how far the bellicosity of the Bush years got us — by the time Bush left office, the entire world hated America because we were fool enough to let George Bush and Dick Cheney lead our country for eight years. If Obama bowed perhaps more than was necessary just to show respect (and I would say that a very tall man bowing that deeply to a very short man isn't beyond the pale at all), after the last eight years, perhaps it's warranted.

But there is nothing that the right-wing wants more than another major terrorist attack on our soil. Glenn Beck talks about returning this country to how it was on 9/12, and it's not about good will and helping out. It's about fear — that blind, shit-your-pants fear that gives the right so much comfort. How fear makes them feel more secure, I have no idea. Perhaps someone can enlighten me how fear = strength while respect = weakness, and how hoping for a terrorist attack is somehow patriotic.