Fear does not overrule the Rule Of Law
The decision of the US Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute, among others, the self confessed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), has been met with divided opinions in America.
While some are in favour of the trial and see this as a restoration of the Rule Of Law to the American political and justice system, many others are opposed to this. Understandably some of the families of victims and survivors themselves, worry that this will be a show trial, a chance for KSM to use a public platform to further the ’cause’ of Jihad and pour salt into the still sore wounds left behind from their loss.
However, much of the criticism has been levelled from across the political divide and across the mainstream media in America with an ever growing insanity towards reasons as to why the decision of Holder to take the trial to a Federal Court is not only baffling but dangerous to the safety of the United States.
A story on Fox News, on the 14 November 2009, spoke about people’s fears that the trial “could end up targeting the Bush administration and its anti-terror policies.” It went on to speak about the “harsh” techniques used on KSM and his fellow trial attendees, being used to turn the trials focus away from the horrific crimes committed, to the questionable techniques used to obtain some of the evidence. This in turn has seen some worry that the trial will be thrown out of the court room based on the fact that evidence was obtained by torture and that KSM will be released to walk among New Yorkers and Americans as a whole.This is an understandable question and fear but does more to question people’s fears at the actions of the past and present administration than KSM himself. If one were to go back and look at the 9/11 Commission report, evidence would seem to have been obtained that pointed to KSM’s involvement in the planning and staging of the attrocities. It also seems likely that as Holder told a Senate Committee where he was required to explain his reasons for a civil trial, that he had weighed up the possibility of torture being brought into the equation with evidence gathered. One would always hope that a trial would go ahead with full and proper gathering of evidence. However if torture were brought into the arguments in court any blame would have to be placed at the feet of those responsible for the deeds as opposed to Holder and Obama’s decision to go to trial.
The Washington Post themselves argued, in an article that spoke of certain Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) officials (20 Nov 09) agreement with Holder’s decision, wherever the trial (Federal or Military) is to be held the issue of the defenders treatment will always be an issue: “defendants will make an issue of how they were treated and attempt to undermine the trial politically. These efforts are likely to have more traction in a military than a civilian court.” This in itself undermines any criticism that a Federal court will be a softer platform for a trial.
Another reason given is that a Federal Court is not the place to hold the trial of someone who committed an act of war against the United States. Almost immediately this can be countered by the Federal Courts proven track record in cases similar as opposed to those of Military courts.
In 1993 New York was rocked by an explosion at the World Trade Centre (WTC). In 1997, the chief planner of the attack and nephew to KSM, Ramzi Yousef, was tried in a Federal Court, and found guilty of his crimes. He now serves a 240 year life sentence in a maximum security prison. At the time questions were asked that stated giving a Federal trial awarded Yousef with the same rights of an American citizen, accusations that have been levelled at Holder now. However, despite these ‘rights’ Yousef was still successfully tried and convicted. And it must be noted his uncle will be facing similar accusations, of planning, funding and conspiracy.
Other trials of terrorists have been successfully applied in a Federal Court and one might add some of these trials were under George W Bush’s watch, including Richard Reid, the alleged “shoe bomber”, Jose Padilla, an Al Qaeda agent, and Zacarias Moussaoui, otherwise known as the “20th Hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks. This also seems to be lost on many critics of Holders decision.
In the past 8 years military courts have only been able to secure 3 convictions, while in contrast, the Federal courts have been able to secure many more. And at the same time with the many changes to constitutional, international and military laws since military courts were last used after World War 2, there is some question as to the validity of the military commissions. There is no question as to the US Federal Courts validity, and this is bolstered by (as already mentioned) the successes in convictions in terrorist trials already.
One of the most fearful accusations used to argue against the Federal trials is that this opens the city of New York up to a another attack. Right wing talk radio host Rush Limbaughsuggested on 13 November that the attacks on 9/11 were a result of the trials following the 93 WTC bombing. While this ignores, as often the GOP do, the reasons that the 9/11 Commission found were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including CIA and military intelligence, this has not stopped Republican Senators from echoing Limbaugh’s statement. Representative Peter King (Rep.NY) has said that “While I have the utmost respect for and confidence in the NYPD and US Marshals Service, these terrorists’ new home and the courthouse in which they’ll be tried will immediately move to the top of al Qaeda’s target list — requiring significant local resources to protect the city that is already a top target,” (New York Post 16 Nov 09).
Playing directly into the fear of New Yorkers that the trial of KSM will make them a terrorist target is just that – fear. Of course America, like a lot of Western nations, especially those that have been a part of the “war on terror”, is still a target and that will remain for a long time. However it is it’s policies that have seen it as a target. And one can not stop the carrying out of justice based on a fear. If you do that, no trial would take place, especially those were witness intimidation is a factor.
The sad fact is New York will be no more a target than it was before. If Al Qaeda are determined to strike New York again, they will try. The Washington Post summed it up thusly: “If al-Qaeda could carry out another attack in New York, it would — a fact true a week ago and for a long time. Its inability to do so is a testament to our military, intelligence and law enforcement responses since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”
One other argument put forward is that this was a declaration of war, and that the attack on the Pentagon was an act of war. Dictionary.com states that an act of war is “an act of aggression by a country against another with which it is nominally at peace.” However this is not true in this case. Al Qaeda is not an organisation affiliated with a country by an ideal with members from many countries. For example Osama Bin Laden and many of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, but it was Afghanistan that was invaded as it was seen at the time to be harbouring Al Qaeda.
What happened on 9/11 was mass murder and murder is a Federal crime and in itself New York does have the death penalty to use, although it has not used this since 1976. Regardless, as was pointed out earlier, the 1993 conspirators are now in a supermax prison and will never see the light of day again.
What this decision by the Obama admin boils down to, is do the American people have faith in their justice system? As has been detailed above, the Federal courts have successfully tried terrorists before and are adequately equipped to protecting intelligence sources and methods, collating evidence to present to the jury and ensuring a defendant does not misuse the trial to raise irrelevant issues (another accusation levelled as to why the trials should not be held in a Fed court). To question the ability of the courts to do this and suggest that a military court is more equipped to do this, shows a lack of faith in the judicial system. And this only divides the American people more.
The fact remains, KSM will be tried one way or the other. Those who question a public trial need to remember America has been successful before and their fears have not been with merit. The rule of law prevailed even in trials which were exceedingly raw on the American psyche.
I leave the final word to a “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows”.
“We believe in our country and we believe in our time-tested federal legal system that has, to date, convicted 195 terrorists who are now being held in maximum security prisons in the US. In the 100 years of their existence, no one has ever escaped these secure units. We trust that the guilty will be tried and judged in this venue, as federal courts have many tools to convict and will not need to rely on the results of interrogations tainted by torture.
In open and transparent court, we will again show the world who we are: a fair and just people. Family members, many of whom reside in or near New York, will be able to choose to see the proceedings, as will the whole world, and attest to the fairness of the process. We are confident that the authorities can secure our safety, as they have done for these last eight years.”