America on Trial, via Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

CIA photo

Maui Time | November 19, 2009
One of my favorite books is by a conservative. Every American should read Stephen L. Carter's 1996 primer on ethics, Integrity. Carter writes that integrity requires doing the right thing, "even at personal cost." In the world of politics, the example of Al Gore's father comes to my mind: a senator from Tennessee, Al Gore, Sr. openly opposed segregation and the Vietnam War even though he knew his outspokenness would cause him to lose his 1970 reelection campaign.

Faced with the choice between integrity and expediency, Republicans are taking the low road. Principles? Only when they're convenient. Never mind the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions or common decency -- on the question of what to do about POWs rotting away at Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, right-wingers' concerns are purely practical.

We are talking, of course, about Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in Manhattan, within walking distance of the World Trade Center Memorial Hole, which marks America's resilience.

Note: I don't refer to Mohammed as "9/11 mastermind." Unlike most Americans, I don't believe that something is true just because the government says it. Until a jury and the media examine the facts, we have no idea whether Mohammed is guilty of anything. As far as we know, he could be nothing more than a poster child for Pakistani bed-head. Moreover, my distrust multiplies in direct proportion to the number times a suspect has been waterboarded (in Mohammed's case, at least 183).

Anyway, it's interesting to watch "law and order" conservatives like Rudy Giuliani talk away basic legal rights like habeas corpus. "[Mohammad] should be tried in a military tribunal," Giuliani says, "He is a war criminal. This is an act of war." No, Mr. Mayor, he's not. And this is no war. Had an actual war been declared, a nation-state would have attacked us. 9/11 was a criminal act, and a terrible one: mass murder, air piracy and property damage. Until Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is tried and convicted in a court of law, however he is an alleged criminal, innocent until proven guilty. Where'd this Giuliani guy go to law school, Wal-Mart?

Among Giuliani's other worries: "security concerns." "Just wait and see how much New York City spends on this in order to protect him," he warns. While we're at it, think of how much money the government could save by eliminating the criminal justice system! Why not just let the cops shoot anyone they want?

The attorney general's decision should be commended. He was correct to act independently, without consulting with Obama. It is a long overdue course correction for a government still careening down the road to moral illegitimacy. Still, Holder's pseudo-conservative critics -- wouldn't a real conservative favor strict adherence to the law, practical concerns like the cost of security be damned? -- have good reasons to worry about how the trial will unfold, if and when it actually comes to pass.

For example, Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan fears accused terrorists will exploit their trials. He worries they will "disrupt it and make it a circus and allow them to use it as a platform to push their ideology." Well, yeah. In political proceedings, the defendants always try to put the state on trial. Unfortunately, the military, CIA and Bush Administration made that outcome inevitable by refusing to treat 9/11 as a crime. Mohammed and his comrades ought to have been turned over to The Hague, where the dull murmur of transcription machines has a way of sucking all the drama out of the most political of trials.

John "Torture Memo" Yoo frets in The Wall Street Journal that "KSM and his co-defendants will enjoy the benefits and rights that the Constitution accords to citizens and resident aliens -- including the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it got it." Though self-serving, it's an excellent point. The whole sordid story of America's post-9/11 torture program will be internationally televised.

At Mohammed's trial the whole world will hear how U.S. soldiers and intelligence agents stabbed, suffocated and sodomized detainees, including kids, most of whom were later determined to be innocent and set free. So much for the Obama effect; traveling overseas is going to suck for Americans from now on.

The government could have avoided this unpleasantness by, oh, not torturing. And, when we citizens heard and read and watched reports that our government was torturing, we could have racked up some integrity points by taking to the streets by the million to demand that it stop. But we had football and Battlestar Galactica and reality shows to watch instead. Oh, well.

Now it's time for America to take its lumps. Even if that means putting KSM on a plane back to Pakistan and watching him arriving home to a hero's welcome, that's too bad. Release is how a judge and jury typically treats a man who has been tortured while awaiting custody.

What does Stephen L. Carter think about this? I don't know, but I'd like to think that (as a conservative) he would agree with me. Integrity requires one to accept responsibility for one's actions.

Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the new graphic memoir "The Year of Loving Dangerously." He is also the author of the 2002 graphic travelogue "To Afghanistan and Back."

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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