In 2001, we all witnessed an American tragedy. The terrorist attack on 9/11 was unprecendented in its damage and loss of life. The plot was deceptively simple, hijack airliners and take them on kamikaze runs. We tend to see such massive loss of life as something that requires a complex mechanism -- a Bond villain with stolen military hardware or some sort of deathray -- and the idea that it was relatively simple just made it all worse. Who else could do this -- and when?
Most of the power that day's fear held over us was spent as political capital by the Bush administration. In terms of pointless waste of life, the Iraq war far surpasses September 11, 2001. After more than 4,000 Americans have been killed and Conservative estimates put the Iraqi body count at around 100,000. Eight years later, 9/11 has become part of the background in America. We live a constant "now" and 9/11 has finally become "then." At least, for most of us.
The news that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators will be tried in New York City has demonstrated that some can't -- or won't -- let 9/11 become history. It's always part of their "now." Moments after the decision was announced, many slapped 9/11 on their sleeves and freaked out.
"Unconscionable," declared Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "Dangerous," said former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. "An unnecessary risk," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. Democrat Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia called Friday's decision to move Mohammed from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, misguided, saying war criminals "do not belong in our courts."
I've got a lot of respect for Jim Webb, but sometimes he just comes out of left field. Some of this is just the typical right wing grandstanding designed to show that President Obama can't do anything right. If the White House had chosen a different route, it's hard to imagine he'd be getting a lot of praise from most of these people. But it's FOX News that demonstrates the underlying fear for the right -- that former President Bush might get pulled into the whole thing:
The Obama administration, in deciding to try alleged Sept. 11 conspirators in a New York courtroom, has said it is setting its sights on convictions, but some critics say a civilian trial -- instead of a military tribunal -- could end up targeting the Bush administration and its anti-terror policies.
One of those five defendants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been at the center of the debate over those Bush-era polices, in particular the harsh interrogation techniques used on Mohammed and others in an effort to obtain information on Al Qaeda and any additional attacks.
"The government is going to try to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed on trial. Defense lawyers will try and put the government on trial," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News.
This is an unfounded fear for many reasons, not the least of which being that evidence obtained through torture would be inadmissible. "Ain't gonna happen," writes CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen for he New York Times. "Depending on who is running the show (Mohammed wanted to represent himself at his military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay), it's likely that the government's post-capture treatment of Mohammed will be a factor in the trial. But it won't determine the outcome, especially if the government does not seek to introduce any of Mohammed's post-torture statements to jurors. The fact that the feds are bringing him to New York to stand trial indicates that they have plenty of other evidence that they can use to get their conviction."
Of course Giuliani -- a former federal prosecutor -- knows this. He's just doing what he always does; getting face-time on cable networks by humping 9/11 like a drunk prom date. We really dodged a bullet when he dropped out of the presidential campaign in 2008. The fact that we dodged that bullet by about 100 miles should tell the cable networks how much we give a damn what Rudy thinks, but there ya go.
Others find a different motive behind the criticism -- blind terror.
It's only America's Right that is too scared of the Terrorists -- or which exploits the fears of their followers -- to insist that no regular trials can be held and that "the safety and security of the American people" mean that we cannot even have them in our country to give them trials. As usual, it's the weakest and most frightened among us who rely on the most flamboyant, theatrical displays of "strength" and "courage" to hide what they really are. Then again, this is the same political movement whose "leaders" -- people like John Cornyn and Pat Roberts -- cowardly insisted that we must ignore the Constitution in order to stay alive: the exact antithesis of the core value on which the nation was founded. Given that, it's hardly surprising that they exude a level of fear of Terrorists that is unmatched virtually anywhere in the world. It is, however, noteworthy that the position they advocate -- it's too scary to have normal trials in our country of Terrorists -- is as pure a surrender to the Terrorists as it gets.
If Bush thought he could've earned political points by going on tour and dancing on the graves of 9/11 victims worldwide, I have no doubt he would've done it. Rudy Giuliani learned that from Bush and so did the vast majority of the Republican party. When they get backed into a corner or think they see a chink in their political opponent's armor, they 9/11 the 9/11 with a 9/11. That date isn't an event for these people, it's not a remembrance, it's a prybar to jimmy open the fears of wingnut followers who -- let's face it -- are especially open to fear-based arguments.
Just because some of us are cowards, it doesn't mean we all have to live by the cowards' rule. We can do this right and use the Constitution as our guide or we can throw everything we've fought for and built out the window because a death cult succeeded once. If that's all it takes for you to abandon the rule of law and to stop believing in the American system of justice, then I can't help you. You're going to have to find some tiny shred of courage within yourself, put on your big kid pants, and deal with it.
Because it looks like we're going to do this the American way for a change.
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