The latest evidence proffered by conservative ideologues that Pres. Obama is anti-American and that America is being ruined is the announcement that certain detainees from Guantanamo Bay will be tried in civil courts for the 9/11 attacks. Chief among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of 9/11.
The reasons for conservative outrage go like this, I think:
1. These men do not deserve the privilege of the American court system. To try them in our court system would be to defile that system.
2. It is dangerous to bring these terrorists to American soil because it would invite further terrorist attacks.
3. The government would have to give up its secrets in court in order to prosecute them effectively.
4. It would be a media circus and too great a strain on our court system.
As to number one, I agree. He does not deserve due process of law. Neither did Timothy McVeigh or Jeffrey Dahmer. These types of men do not deserve the rights and privileges of due process of law. But in America this is how we do it. In America we are a nation of laws, due process, objectivity, and justice. We have a Constitution to protect us from mob rule and decisionmaking based on emotion, hatred, half-truths, rumors, and the like. It is fundamentally American, and the right thing to do, to drag these terrorists through the court system and show the world that America does things the Right Way.
Number two is, I believe, a scare tactic. There have been no other terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, despite the fact that they have tried. We are more alert now than ever, and I believe that we are safer now than ever. I don't believe that we are more at risk having these few terrorists locked up in America than we did having them locked up 100 miles south of Florida in Cuba.
Number three is probably not going to happen to begin with, but reveals something about ourselves in any case. The government has a long standing exemption from regular discovery rules for national security secrets. They will not give away information that could be used to harm America, our troops, or our citizens. But really what we are worried about is the embarrassing stuff that could come out as a result of this trial. The torture, the poor conditions, the poor decisionmaking, and all the other skeletons in our closet regarding how we have prosecuted the war on terror.
Part of the reason I support this move by the Obama Administration is because it will lead to more openness about how we've been doing things and it will shed some light on some of our actions that we should not be proud of. Hopefully we'll come out of this a stronger nation with more desire to be just, open, and supportive of human rights than before. They will convict these terrorists no matter how embarrassing some of the details may be, so I hope we end up doing a little soul-searching along the way.
Number four is trivial and doesn't matter to me. It will be a media circus. It will strain the courts. Compared to how important it is to get this right, and show America to be just and strong and confident, those concerns mean little.
It has been well documented (I get my information from Glenn Greenwald: see here, here, here, and here, who in turn gets his information from the Pentagon, Gen. McChrystal, and others) that the imprisonment of Muslims suspected of terrorism without any sort of due process of law is a key recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. The mistreatment of extremists in our custody is driving more extremism. We have to put a stop to this, and it is within our power to do so. Muslim extremists, it is true, will never "like" us, but that is besides the point. We don't need friends, we just need to take the edge off that seething anger that drives manageable dislike to terrorism.
Trying these extremists in civil court, including KSM, is the right thing to do both for ourselves internally as a nation and our security worldwide.