Monday, November 16, 2009

On trying terrorist masterminds in New York

Even though I understand it is intuitively grotesque to put "KSM" -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, master planner of September 11 -- on trial as a mere criminal in New York, and even though I understand the insult to all of us in granting alien warriors our constitutional rights, and the damage to our intelligence efforts the "bonanza" of required sensitive information from military and intelligence services would prove to do, all of it spilling out as a result of the accused having the right to face his accusers -- granted, a lot of "even thoughs" -- still I think there may be one silver lining in this cloud. (The darkest part of the cloud is that the people who want to bring KSM to trial want to do so for absolutely malicious reasons, I am sure. They, from President Obama on down, want to grotesquely insult the nation and endanger its future, but I daresay we are almost getting used to that. And their guaranteeing that KSM will be convicted and will get the death penalty also, of course, renders the whole thing a show trial, another blow to the very appearance of justice that they pretend to tout. In addition to that, I feel sure they'd be delighted if he were acquitted. We have some utterly brutish little children at the helm of this ship. Are we getting used to it?)

Anyway the silver lining is that in trying Muslim terrorists in a civilian court, we may deny them their ability to define jihad. The smart commentators are saying just the opposite, that it's grotesque for KSM to be given this forum by which to preach and recruit. I wonder.

I think back to the movie Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson plays the medieval Scottish warlord William Wallace. When Wallace, battling back against England's conquest of Scotland, is captured by his English foes, he is brought to London for his execution. The crime he is charged with is treason against the English king. The punishment is hanging, drawing, and quartering.

By no stretch of the imagination could Wallace, morally (at least in the movie) be considered a traitor to his nation's conqueror. To be charged so is a cruel and of course deliberate slur to him and to the truth and the reality of his warfare. If his side had won, things would have turned out very differently and no king would have had the power to tell him he was a rebel. But Wallace dies the death of a convicted traitor: the English crowds watch and move off, and Scotland is still conquered, or at least seems well on its way to being. He has lost. His knowing, and his people's knowing, that he is in the right in some lofty sphere, with God perhaps, does no one any service in the end.

And, outrageous as it is to bring the terrorists of September 11th to Manhattan to be "tried" as if for some extremely serious legal faux pas of which they are still yet presumed innocent, nevertheless it does also treat them as the king of England treated William Wallace. It denies them their ability to define themselves, their ability to say what their actions were about. Considering that their motive was jihad, one of the cornerstones of Islam for 1400 years and something laid down by Mohammed himself (the "perfect man"), our chloroforming that motive in a Western courtroom, our saying instead -- no, this was a crime in our Western sense, may prove to be unintentionally wise.

Revised May 16, 2010

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