By now, most have heard that several high value terrorists, including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, will be moved to New York City. The consequences of this decision are massive and they will reverberate.
Those that defend the decision say that a civilian trial will be fair, open and thus show the rest of the world that we have the best justice system in the world. I have no doubt that all of those things are true, however none of them will benefit us in this case. The terrorists aren't going to hate us any less because we give their comrades constitutional rights in a trial that will certainly wind up in their executions.
The Europeans aren't suddenly going to become terror warriors because KSM received a civilian trial. In fact, this goes back to a debate that I thought had been settled. Was the attack on 9/11 an illegal act of war or heinous crime. Back in the 1990's, we treated the first WTC attack, the embassy bombings and the USS Cole bombing all as criminal attacks. Al Qaeda viewed all as an act of war. Al Qaeda had declared war on us in the mid 1990's. When Al Qaeda flew planes into the towers they weren't simply trying to kill a lot of people. They were hoping to eventually bring the entire country down. That's an act of war, and since it targeted civilians, it was an illegal act of war.
We try criminals in our court system. We try illegal enemy combatants in military courts. The best example I can give was of the German spy saboteurs in WWII. They were captured and put on trial not in a civilian court but by a military tribunal. There's was an act of war. We didn't treat them like criminals.
So to was Al Qaeda's act on 9/11. Yet, we want to give these folks the same protections we give murderers. They aren't merely murderers but illegal enemy combatants. There are many consequences. First, these are the worst of the worst. If they are tried in civilian court, all must be tried in civilian court. Just think about it. If KSM is given a civilian trial with full constitutional rights, then how will we justify trying a mid level operative any differently?
Second, all these trials will be a circus. We know this because we sat through four years of Zaracrias Moussaoui. It lasted the better part of four years. Moussaoui spewed anti American propaganda throughout and the whole thing became surreal. There's absolutely no chance that these guys will be acquitted. They know this. They also know that they have an opportunity to put the Bush administration, America, and the West on trial. They'll the CIA tactics on trial. They'll put American on trial.
Furthermore, these folks weren't arrested using traditional means of criminal arrest. There will be all sorts issues bringing evidence to trial. It will be challenged each and every step of the way. Many of our secrets may be exposed. Terrorists that have "flipped" may be forced to testify in open court.
That's one of the main reasons that we have military courts. They balance the necessary fairness and justice with the practicality of the war we are fighting. Civilian courts aren't capable of this. Many folks often say that we have convicted many terrorists in the past, like those that perpetrated the first WTC attack. That's true. We weren't in a full scale war then. We'll be trying our enemies during this war and do it in a civilian court.
Please check out my new books, "Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall" and also, "The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers"