Charles Krauthammer On Civilian Trials For Terrorist Suspects

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 20, 2009

Look, I would love to think that we could simply resolve all of these issues in a civilian court. But in many cases, we can’t. This isn’t a partisan point, just a realistic one. And Krauthammer explains why:

September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself. A decade later, the deed will be given voice. [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable — a civilian trial in the media capital of the world — from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America.

So why is Attorney General Eric Holder doing this? Ostensibly, to demonstrate to the world the superiority of our system, where the rule of law and the fair trial reign.

Really? What happens if KSM (and his co-defendants) “do not get convicted,” asked Senate Judiciary Committee member Herb Kohl. “Failure is not an option,” replied Holder. Not an option? Doesn’t the presumption of innocence, er, presume that prosecutorial failure — acquittal, hung jury — is an option? By undermining that presumption, Holder is undermining the fairness of the trial, the demonstration of which is the alleged rationale for putting on this show in the first place.

Moreover, everyone knows that whatever the outcome of the trial, KSM will never walk free. He will spend the rest of his natural life in U.S. custody. Which makes the proceedings a farcical show trial from the very beginning.

I am not that worried about propaganda statements KSM might make. They could be made in a military court as well. But as Krauthammer points out, we are in effect making a mockery of the very justice system whose integrity we are supposedly out to protect and preserve, thanks to the words of the Attorney-General. The security issues to be dealt with are properly termed a “nightmare.” And the national security implications are most troubling:

. . . Civilian courts with broad rights of cross-examination and discovery give terrorists access to crucial information about intelligence sources and methods.

That’s precisely what happened during the civilian New York trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecution was forced to turn over to the defense a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators, including the name Osama bin Laden. “Within 10 days, a copy of that list reached bin Laden in Khartoum,” wrote former attorney general Michael Mukasey, the presiding judge at that trial, “letting him know that his connection to that case had been discovered.”

Why are we doing this?

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