Fear of terrorists - real or imagined - has against triumphed in the US as the Obama Administration has been forced to concede the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will be tried by military court, in Guantanamo, thereby breaking two major Obama election promises.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has the right to be mighty peeved at being forced to try the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks by military tribunal.
And he was right to show just how peeved he was when he had to front and announce this week that politics had triumphed, and the casualty is faith in America’s civilian court system.
Back in 2009 he announced that Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed and four of his co-conspirators would stand trial not that far from one of the scenes of their alleged crime – downtown New York.
It was part of the grand plan of the Obama administration to close Guantanamo Bay. That closure plan – and campaign promise- went down the toilet. Now it has been followed by walking away from the promise to try KSM in a civilian court. A promise broken the very week Obama announced he was running for re-election.
Neither was a surprise. Both a disappointment. There are just under 200 detainees remaining in Gitmo, many of them destined for trial. However they won’t likely be heading for federal trials on the mainland any time soon either.
Holder had sufficient faith in the US Federal Court system to believe he could win convictions of men who had even been tortured while in captivity.
That is some faith, and now it has been blasted all over his face and that of the President.
It has also left some sort of matter smeared over the faces of the politicians too timid to front the accused in a forum which fulfills the tenets of the US Constitution. Who exactly does have constitutional rights when held in detention by the US government? If the Constitution does not apply to all, what’s the point of having it?
Obama and Holder wanted desperately to hold a transparent trial, and a military trial does not meet that standard.
The thinking behind a civilian hearing was to endorse the legitimacy of the verdict. That is a fortunate byproduct of a fair trial. Yes, acquittal is always a danger, but so unlikely with KSM who has admitted his role and asked to be sentenced to death so he could die a martyr. It begs the question of what is the point of having trials if the only possibility is conviction.
But this is America, and to hell with the possibility that the rest of the world is watching to see how it administers justice to those who are not American. The politicians, who, as Holder said, have nowhere near the understanding of this case that he does, have nevertheless triumphed. In doing so however they have shown the world that they are still so terrified of the ‘enemy’ (read Muslims) that they can’t even trust their judges and juries to act with justice and honour. Let alone their prosecutors to put forward a slam-dunk case. Slam-dunk it seems is only trusted when invading other countries.
And there are plenty around who continue to spin the American public into a frenzy over the ‘other’. There’s a constant terror diet, fuelled lately by the ridiculous hearings by Republican Representative Peter King into the so-called radicalization of Muslims in America, rantings by potential Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and others about Shari’a law taking over in small town USA, and the outrageous bigotry of that weirdo Terry Jones and his Qur’an burning. They are all dots to be connected in this tale, the latest saga of which is the affront to the American justice system.
These people never let the facts get in the way of their story, so any details about the hundreds of terrorists – foreign and homegrown – who have been successfully tried in federal courts over the last ten years will fall on those cloth ears so beautifully tailored by the last Republican administration for political gain, and now menacingly whispered into by those who aspire to be the next Republican administration.
And let’s not forget it was that last administration which sanctioned torture which has made this rod. With so many of the Gitmo detainees there is good cause to believe they have been responsible for hideous crimes, but the evidence against them was obtained by what was euphemistically called ‘enhanced interrogation’. That doesn't stand up in proper courts, for good reason. The corollary of course is prolonged detention and that requires somewhere to hold them. Congress last year put an end to any hope of transferring said detainees to the mainland.
So the upshot of all this is at least KSM will be tried – albeit in a military tribunal. That is not justice for him but it would be fair to say most could care less. However most importantly, this course of action does not achieve the justice that the victims of 9/11 and their families deserve.