Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today:
Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday that some Guantanamo Bay detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be tried in a civilian federal court in New York. What is the possible legal, cultural or political fallout from this decision?
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said:
The same Administration that announced on day one that is was closing Guantanamo -- only to later find out that there were actually dangerous people housed there -- is willfully bringing 9/11 killers to American soil. This decision is no better thought-out than its plan (it didn't have one) to close GITMO.
These are not common criminals, they aren't even American citizens. Simply put, there is nothing wrong with treating foreigners differently than Americans, especially combatants. Americans enjoy special rights and protections because we carry out the responsibilities of being Americans. Foreigners captured, out of uniform, while trying to kill Americans, needless to say, have no part in that compact. To live in a legal ivory tower that treats everyone the same, even terrorists, is the height of irresponsibility.
Justin Raimondo, editorial director of AntiWar.com, said:
Aside from the militaristic fetishism of the Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters, I fail to understand just why it was deemed impossible to try Gitmo detainees in a civilian court in the first place -- and why, now, all of them aren't being so tried (pace Glenn Greenwald in Salon).
So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is being tried in NEW YORK? Does anyone think the jury will be sympathetic? It seems to me as if he might get a fairer trial in a military court.
The idea that our legal institutions and traditions have to be bypassed on account of the "war on terrorism" was part and parcel of the post-9/11 "everything's changed" meme, spread by the neocons in order to lubricate their de facto coup d'etat and usurpation of government power. As Bob Woodward put it in "Plan of Attack":
"Powell felt Cheney and his allies – his chief aide, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith’s ‘Gestapo’ office – had established what amounted to a separate government.”
A separate White House -- headquartered in the Office of the Vice President. A separate intelligence-gathering apparatus -- in the "Office of Special Plans." And a separate judiciary -- in the military tribunals set up by the coup leaders, which were given charge of the Gitmo detainees. The War Party, in effect, did an end run around the Constitution and the duly constituted government, and set up their own parallel institutions. That the Gitmo detainees are (some of them) being tried in civilian courts signals a return to normalcy, and the partial undoing of the neocon coup. Now we just have to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the Military Commissions Act -- and get our troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever else they have no business being.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in a statement:
The terrorists who planned, participated in, and aided the September 11, 2001 attacks are war criminals, not common criminals. Not only are these individuals not common criminals but war criminals, they are also not American citizens entitled to all the constitutional rights American citizens have in our federal courts. The individuals accused of committing these heinous, cowardly acts of intentionally targeting unsuspecting, defenseless civilians should therefore be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States.
The military commission system recently signed into law by the President as part of the National Defense Authorization Act provides standards of due process and fairness that fully comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions. Earlier this year, when passing the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate also passed language expressing its clear intent that military commissions rather than civilian courts in the U.S. are the appropriate forum for the trial of these alleged terrorists. I share the views of more than 140 family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who recently wrote to the Senate urging that the individuals charged with responsibility for those attacks should be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States: It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims' families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America.
Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, said:
If America is going to start acting like America again, why should there be any fall-out?
If we are a nation based on respect for the law, if we are to be an example for other nations, and if we have confidence in our institutions and our principles - then why would we be threatened, and why would we let anyone play politics with our values?
Politicians who use scare tactics to challenge this just decision are either demagogues preying off fear or are, themselves, scared little boys.
Meghan Tisinger, director of Communications for Military Families United, said:
This decision is a victory for those who perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001, not the American people. For years, attorneys for the accused accomplices of the September 11th hijackers have been fighting the US Government to permit their clients to be tried in civilian court. The Obama Administration has now capitulated to those requests. The September 11 accomplices will now receive many of the same constitutional rights and privileges as ordinary Americans.
Given the unique circumstances of their alleged crimes, capture and detention, those rights will be used as a sword rather than a shield. The September 11 accomplices are enemy combatants, not civilian criminals. Their access to the civilian justice system will enable them to exclude key evidence from the proceedings and seek legal protections to which they would not be otherwise entitled. With a potentially tainted jury pool in New York City, these 9/11 accomplices may also be able to claim violation of their Constitutional rights to a fair trial. In a shameless attempt to appease the ACLU, the Administration’s decision is fraught with peril for all Americans and the families of those who perished in the attacks.
Military Families United believes that the best solution is for GITMO to remain open and for all suspected terrorists held in the Guantanamo Bay facility to be tried as soon as possible under the revised Military Commissions process.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement:
I have always believed that the nation’s federal courts are capable of trying high profile terrorism and national security cases. They have proven time and time again to be up to the job. The Justice Department’s decision to pursue criminal charges against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspects in federal court is a step toward bringing long overdue justice to the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I hope these cases will move forward promptly. By trying them in our federal courts, we demonstrate to the world that the most powerful nation on earth also trusts its judicial system – a system respected around the world.
Debra Burlingame, attorney and member of the Board of Directors of Keep America Safe, said:
Today, Attorney General Eric Holder will announce that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several of his fellow 9/11 co-conspirators will be brought to New York City and tried in federal court. No doubt the Attorney General will invoke the phrase, "Swift and certain justice." This is a sham. There will be nothing swift and nothing certain about it.
The trial will be a travesty. The prosecutors at the Southern and Eastern Districts fought over these career-making cases like vultures at a kill. But who will be the vulture? In open court, it will be Khalid Shiek Mohammed who will hold forth, mocking his victims, exulting in the suffering of their families, ridiculing the judge, his lawyers and the American justice system, and worst of all, rallying his jihadi brothers to kill more Americans as the men and women of the US military risk their lives in the mountains of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq. All, just blocks from where 20,000 body parts were dug out of the rubble of the Twin Towers.
Remember KSM's famous opening line when he was grabbed in Rawalpindi? "I'll talk to you guys after I get to New York and see my lawyer." Thanks to the Obama Administration, it looks like he’ll get his wish. And he’ll do his best—with the help of this top-drawer lawyers and much of the media—to make the real defendants at the trial the CIA interrogators—and the American government.
How will this help achieve what our president claims he wants to achieve--"restoring respect for America"? Is that what he really wants?"