Sunday, January 31, 2010

Trying our virtues

How do Americans deal with criminals? Whether they be alleged robbers, murderers or suspected terrorists, we hold courtroom trials to decide their guilt or innocence. And regardless of how guilty they may appear, we give them fair trials despite the costs. This is the way it is done in America, and how we are different than many other nations.

Yet, there is a clamoring in New York City about why we should not hold the accused 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accountable for his alleged crimes in civilian court. The Republicans say that he is far too dangerous to be tried in federal court, and instead should be under the jurisdiction of a military tribunal where he supposedly has fewer rights. Yet, the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, were both found guilty in civilian courts with no terrorism ramifications. So why is there such a fear with KSM?

There are now reports that Western Pennsylvania -- specifically Pittsburgh -- could be the location for the terror trials because hijackers crashed Flight 93 into a Somerset County field. Why is there so much fear over a trial here? To quote a former president, "Bring em on." We should be hungry for a trial for the man who is accused of orchestrating the worst act of terrorism in history. We should believe that our justice system will give him a fair trial and deserved punishment. I welcome this judgment and the impending security restrictions in my hometown that might accompany such a proceeding.

We hold ourselves to a higher standard, regardless of the inherent dangers. What has changed since we proudly wore T-shirts after 9/11 that read... These colors don't run. So why are we still living in fear? Why should we be afraid to hold a man accountable for his actions? Instead, I think the terrorists should be frightened that we are keeping to our ideals rather than stooping to their barbaric level. We are ruled by law, and that is a powerful force that should not be broken.


  1. While I am a proponent of a military tribunal as opposed to a trial, I think you may be misunderstanding the uproar about the trials in NYC. It's my understanding that the main issue is with the costs associated with running security in a city the size of NYC. We're talking $200 million just for extra NYPD security! IMHO, the trial should be held in some little podunk town that happens to have a federal court (read: Charleston, WV).

    Oh, and thanks for the use of the word "barbaric." Fittingly, if the trial was held in Chas., it would be in the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building!

  2. I understand that people have problems with the supposed $200 million security costs. But that's not what most politicians are complaining about when they pull this NIMBY stuff. I have heard possibilities of moving the trials to an island just off the New York coastline, and that would be fine with me.

    Don't say you want to fight terror, but then cower in the face of adversity.

  3. The federal government, I believe, has pledged to provide 200 million dollars to the host city... so that really shouldn't be the only issue.

    I really don't see what the big deal is... sure, he's a fairly successful terrorist... but in all actuality, the child molester on trial at the Worshintin County Courthouse is more of a threat to my family than this douche-nozzle... and I am perfectly happy to see our court systems dole out punishment for rapists and murderers.

    It's pure hypocrisy... and so surprisingly transparent.

  4. A couple of things to add,

    First, the $200M is PER YEAR, not a total cost. The population of Guantanamo is about 150, or something like that. To cycle through this many, the trials could go on for years, and years, maybe even a decade. Maybe the total cost would be $2B. However, I have no problem with the cost issue.

    Secondly, I think this matter is one of an enemy combatant, not a criminal matter. It should be taken to the tribunals. Yes, two others went through criminal trials, but that doesn't mean it was the right thing to do. It was a problem then, and will be a problem now.

    Two issues come to mind that make this matter a candidate for a tribunal, not a US criminal court. First, there are many opportunities for charges to be dismissed. One small legal technicality, and the charges are thrown out. Will the prisoner be released? We now know the track of other prisoners who were released, thinking they were safe to return to their homeland. Some have come back to bite us, and hard. Again, just because two other trials ended up favorable, I have no confidence that pattern would continue. Their cases were different in terms of where they were held, how captured, etc.

    But, the second issue is most important. That is the matter of national security. In the criminal courtroom, evidence must be produced as public documents and released. For those who prosecuted the other trials, they were forced to fork over documents and information that should never have been open to the public. Public openness is a great thing in our US court rooms. But, openness with information regarding our national security is not a good thing. Why do we want to have our enemies, those who have vowed to not stop until they take us out, get their hands on our plans and procedures? I have no reason to believe the legal team representing these people will do all in their power to have as much released as possible, whether it is germane to the trail or not. The opportunity to uncover secrets is there, and they will capitalize on it to the fullest extent possible. Why wouldn't they do so?

    Some of the posts here say, "What do we have to be afraid of?" or similar. I think this is your answer. We should be afraid of giving out our secrets to others, those who have one objective, kill us. To be sure, any location holding the trials becomes a highly vulnerable target for those wanting to do harm, from both sides. Consider Jack Ruby.

    Pittsburgh officials have made it clear that this city is not well enough prepared to deal with the trials. True, or not true? I don't know. Look at all the extra people who were imported for the G-20 security measures. Any trial scene for these terrorists would be just as bad, perhaps worse because of the stakes involved. Maybe it is a new industry for SW PA that could provide badly needed economic growth for the next few years. Bad choice for a economic path, in my opinion.

    But, the issue of release of security information is more important. Why do we want to "open the kamona," so to speak?

    The ironic part of these discussions is that if the terrorists are found not guilty, they will be returned to prison for another reason. Those who understand these matters (no, not me, and I'm doubting many others either) believe that if found not guilty, none of them will see the light of day. Frankly, I don't understand why. But, I've never heard anybody speak about one of them ever going free, except for a legal technicality. In other words, authorities will possibly go through many hoops to process these terrorists, and achieve nothing in the end, excepting a change of status. The reality will remain: prison for the rest of their lives.

  5. This dude will have so many charges piled up against him that he'll never be freed... EVER. Just because a judge dismisses the charges does not mean prosecutors can't refile them. And if he somehow busts the 9/11 conspiracy accusations, then he can be tried in a military or civilian court for killing Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded in Pakistan.

    So let's be clear: KSM will never be released from prison, however, I believe that it is important that we hold him accountable for 9/11 and his other crimes. We are a country ruled by law, and should not feel inclined to hold people indefinitely.

    I find it interesting that there is little public outrage that Richard Poplawski's fate will be decided by a Dauphin County jury. That will be a tremendous cost for Allegheny County taxpayers. Yet, we are not fearful of him finding loopholes in the system to get out of the charges. Nor are we concerned with the expenses.

    He (allegedly) turned a Stanton Heights neighborhood into a war zone. How is he any different?