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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Show trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed offensive on many fronts

Guest Commentary

When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, in the weeks after the brutal Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left almost 3,000 Americans dead, he said: “Take me to New York.”

Eight years after those attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the self-professed mastermind of the single largest terrorist attack on American soil – is having that wish granted by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration

The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial will be a show trial – make no mistake about it. No matter what proponents of this move may say, this trial isn’t about upholding American “values” or about proving the moral supremacy of our judicial system.

This is about giving a brutal terrorist an international stage to communicate with and energize al-Qaeda sects all over the world. It’s about focusing the attention of suicidal killers on a city that can ill afford to go through another 9-11.

We all know that no matter what a judge or jury decides, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed cannot be allowed to walk free. Indeed, Attorney General Holder has refused to even entertain questions considering the possibility of any outcome other than guilty – going as far as to guarantee the American people a conviction.

I ask, why bother to have a trial if the outcome is supposedly guaranteed? What will the Justice Department do if he is acquitted on a technicality that has already been fully vetted by the U.S. Supreme Court like failure to read him his Miranda rights, for example?

Indeed, there is a real possibility that the moral supremacy of our judicial system will be irrevocably tarnished if his trial appears to the world to be a show trial.

While the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed show trial may prove politically convenient for the administration in the short term, it is as dangerous as it is morally repugnant.

The preamble of our Constitution states: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity (emphasis added) do establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is hard to imagine that in our Founding Fathers’ worst nightmares the justice and blessings of liberty expressly granted by our Constitu- tion to the people of this country would be extended to a foreign war criminal, a self-professed mass murderer, captured on the battlefield, thousands of miles from the United States, during congressionally authorized hostilities.

Such a move flies in the face of historical experience and sets a dangerous legal precedent for generations, which will tie the hands of our military and weaken our ability to wage an effective war against global terrorism. The legitimate question begged by this decision is, if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is entitled to the constitutional protections of the United States, who isn’t?

This show trial will not vindicate our justice system, indeed it will make a mockery of it. It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be this way.

The circus in New York could be avoided and justice can be dispensed to Mohammed and his co-conspirators, and it can be done without setting a dangerous precedent, without giving them the global stage they seek, and without forcing 9/11 victims to endure another wave of terror.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can and should be tried before the military tribunals congressionally established in 2006. Military tribunals have been used throughout our history to deal with enemy combatants during times of war.

In fact, the Obama administration has no moral objection to the use of military tribunals; indeed such tribunals are being used to try some of those held at Guantanamo.

Attorney General Holder’s rationale for who gets the protections of the Constitution and who gets a military tribunal?

Attack a civilian target like the World Trade Center and get the constitutional protections of due process; attack a military target like the USS Cole and get a tribunal.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer rightfully notes that this arbitrary distinction actually incentivizes attacks on civilian targets: “kill as many civilians as possible on American soil and Holder will give you Miranda rights, a lawyer, a propaganda platform – everything but your own blog.”

The blunt truth is that candidate Barack Obama promised to wind down the war in Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan and close Guantanamo.

He must now realize that the please-everyone rhetoric of his campaign has crashed head-on into the reality of the actual situation, and he has to either abandon these promises or attempt to embark on a path that may make the world a much more dangerous planet.

Charles Bass, of Peterborough, is a former Republican congressman for the 2nd Congressional District of New Hampshire.