The Trial of KSM- Why it’s the Right Thing to Do
I really do respect both the logic and the motives of those who question the Justice Department’s decision to bring admitted 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to trial in the federal courts and in the city where his evil took such a terrible toll more than eight years ago. In the end, I can’t help but think it is the right course of action for it is more than just symbolism; it is the embodiment of this country standing for the principles on which it was founded.
The arguments for keeping his case in the military tribunal framework and off the U.S. mainland are many. There is the very real security risk of such a high-profile trial taking place in New York City. But the fact is New York has never stopped being a target. Only now it is a hardened target. When Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly say they can handle it- I believe them.
There’s the view that by prosecuting his case in civilian courts, KSM is being treated as no more than a shoplifter; that surely there are special national security circumstances that merit the use of a system that is specifically in place for dealing with enemy combatants who have declared war against us. But KSM is not being treated as a shoplifter. The government is seeking the death sentence. It has a 94% conviction rate in terrorism cases; KSM is not the first terrorist to go on trial in the federal courts. And while there is ample precedent for use of military tribunals in times of war, this has always been a different kind of war, one that will never be ended by a sovereign government signing surrender documents aboard a U.S. Navy vessel.
Whatever precedents are set in how we treat this particular kind of enemy are especially important and carry an irretrievable and permanent effect because this is a war without end, one that is being waged by shadowy groups and individuals and not nations. I believe in our system of justice and the basic tenants that we do not hold individuals indefinitely and without charges, and that we have a high burden for conviction because once it has been satisfied, the punishment is certain and because of those high standards of proof, morally without question.
There are many who fear the trial will turn into a circus featuring an egomaniac who will be given a platform to spew his spiteful venom and in essence, add insult to the tragic injury he has already caused. But we have been down this road before. The trial of Al Qaeda terrorist, Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court in Alexandria three years ago was rife with this very kind of behavior. We saw him for what he was, we collectively dismissed his rantings, we convicted him and he is now imprisoned for the rest of his life. Democracy is messy and so, occasionally, is our system of justice but in the end, it works.
There are legitimate concerns that since he has admitted guilt and wants to be put to death, the only defense that can be waged on KSM’s behalf will involve showcasing and detailing the interrogation methods that were used to extract his confessions. But we don’t know the government’s precise case against this man. We don’t know what he confessed and when or in what relation to the methods that were used on him. And we don’t know the type of judge who will be assigned to this case. That judge will have the latitude to limit certain disclosures on national security grounds. I am not convinced the interrogation techniques used on KSM will either be much of a factor or for that matter, even come to that much public light beyond what is already known.
Finally, it has been argued that a public trial for the whole world to see will go a long way toward improving America’s image and some counter- well, who cares what the world thinks about us? Frankly, I don’t care much for winning a popularity contest in the court of world opinion either. But I do know this. Every time an American citizen is imprisoned and accused and held without trial abroad; every time a U.S. soldier is captured and interrogated- our own behavior and standards form the moral foundation upon which we base our arguments for their release and humane treatment. It is not a theoretical point. A clear moral foundation rallies international sentiment and creates the public pressure that often leads to positive resolutions in cases in which our own are being unjustifiably treated.
Ultimately, the outcome of the trial and the way it is conducted will determine whether this was or was not a wise course to take. I, for one, have faith in our system and that the process will result in conviction, a sentence of death, and for so many who were permanently scarred by the atrocious events of 9/11- finally- justice.