I was in the worst possible place to hear of the worst possible idea for bringing the 9/11 plotters to justice.
A dreary rain pelted New York City as tabloid headlines shouted from beneath tarpaulin-covered newsstands. “Evil Returns,” proclaimed the giant New York Daily News headline plastered across the face of avowed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The New York Post featured a sunny postcard depicting a Manhattan skyline featuring the twin towers adorned by the words, “Welcome to New York.”
“NOW DIE!” is plastered below. “9/11 fiends coming here for trial. Next stop is hell.”
But even as the most sensational of the city’s newspapers played the story for maximum drama, every New Yorker gulped through the real emotions of imagining these monsters paraded into their city – and into America’s justice system – not as warriors against our nation but as criminal defendants.
Even when pretending to be tough on terrorists they scarcely admit exist, the Obama administration cannot help but reveal where its genuine anger is directed.
Attorney General Eric Holder stood before cameras and microphones Friday, trying to look half as enthused about prosecuting 9/11 conspirators as he is about punishing their CIA interrogators. But as he announced civilian trials for those who launched a war against America, his words betrayed him.
“After eight years of delay,” he began, “Those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September 11 will finally face justice.”
Eight years of “delay”? Surely he knows the years since 9/11 have contained chapter after chapter of attempts to progress down a path toward some kind of disposition for the monsters who planned that attack on America.
But we mustn’t forget that in the Holder mindset, the years between 9/11 and the Obama inauguration are a blur, filled with developments he prefers to forget, if not condemn.
These men who made 9/11 happen were plucked from various parts of Pakistan and detained as enemy combatants, ultimately assigned to the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
This handling of terrorists as terrorists has always been a hairball in the throat of an administration eager to be admired in foreign capitals and on the metaphoric “Arab street,” all part of the campaign to be everything the Bush administration was not.
To our national detriment, their progress toward that goal continues at a quickening pace. They are not in the mood to handle the 9/11 kingpins in military tribunals as befits combatants in wartime. They are not concerned about energizing terrorists by affording their brothers the constitutional protections usually reserved for U.S. citizens. They are not worried about the security concerns this poses for New York or for the nation as sensitive security information finds its way into open court.
Those factors are brushed away with ease in the face of two tantalizing opportunities this president and his attorney general cannot resist: Scoring brownie points among the roll call of America-haters at the U.N.; and, of course, putting the real defendants on trial – George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
And while past policies will surely be mauled in court, the supposed defendants may well escape by asserting the very rights this administration is so eager to bestow.
Does anyone remember that we waterboarded old KSM about every hour on the hour there for a while? Sure, it worked – and saved American lives. But criminal juries are properly concerned with Miranda rights and other loopholes completely outside the proper framework of wartime justice.
So let this president and his attorney general sidekick bow up as if they are meeting terror head on. The confused cauldron of “world opinion” may smile, but America should notice another layer of evidence that as terrorists continue to wage war on us, we are slowly dismantling our war against them.
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