Yesterday news came out that President Obama has decided to try the men accused of planning the September 11th attacks in the US Federal Court in lower Manhattan, blocks away from the former site of the World Trade Centers. The Editorial Board of the Albany Herald has a very good piece on that this morning, and here are my thoughts:
My feeds on both Facebook and Twitter lit up with righteous indignation from conservative – and even some libertarian – activists screaming bloody murder. They throw away the presumption of innocence that is the foundation of our American court system, calling these men “enemy combatants” and demanding that they be given a military trial and summarily executed.
But let’s look at that a bit, shall we?
Wars can only be genuinely conducted against like type of organizations. A nation can wage war against another nation, an ideology can wage war against another ideology, an individual can wage war against another individual. But a nation cannot wage war against an ideology, nor can an ideology wage war against a nation.
Think about it: A nation’s tools of war include bullets and bombs – things designed to destroy people and buildings. Destroy enough of the other nation’s people and buildings, and they either surrender or cease to exist. Similarly, an ideology’s tools of war include rhetoric and passions – things designed to get people to believe what you believe. Convince enough people you are right, and you feel more smug about your beliefs. Maybe you even get the kind of community that you want to live in.
Nations have soldiers. Ideologies have believers.
A nation survives attack by creating more people and buildings. An ideology survives attack by convincing more people it is right than its enemy convinces it is wrong.
Only when you get to that most abominable structure called a theocracy do nations and ideologies become combined. And even then, the theocracy can either be attacked as a whole or as the sum of its parts – namely, its people and buildings or its ideas.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 5 conspirators are avowed believers in an extreme form of Islam. But nothing I have seen indicates they were acting on the direct orders of a Nation – or even a Theocracy, as many of the Nations in the Middle East are. Therefore these men were NOT soldiers, but believers. Because they were believers and not soldiers, they were thus civilians and we cannot prosecute them as soldiers.
We CANNOT use the military justice system on civilians, no matter how evil the civilian is.
But that is where the beauty of the American system comes in. We are a Nation of Laws. The most essential of those laws were enshrined in our Constitution, which says in its 14th Amendment that “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.
In other words, per our Constitution we HAVE to try Mohammed and his co-conspirators in our civilian court system. Because he committed his act on American soil against American citizens, he is entitled to be tried under OUR system of Justice, just the same as if he had been a British citizen accused of stealing from a convenience store.
Mohammed has already said that he would LOVE to be tried and executed in a military court. It would make him the martyr he’s always wanted to be, and it would show just how evil the Americans are.
But we’re not the bad guys.
And so we MUST allow our court system, complete with due process and presumption of innocence, to work. We are the last great hope for government on this planet, and if we fail here we are no better than the terrorists we rail against.
This is going to be one of the most crucial tests of our nation in quite some time. Every single adult in this nation can tell you exactly what they were doing when those towers fell, and prosecutors will no doubt be playing up those emotions.
But Lady Justice is blind and emotionless. If prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those men planned those attacks, and a jury both convicts them and decides they should pay the ultimate price, then so be it.
But we can NOT simply have a sham trial put on for show. We can NOT execute these men in cold blood – no matter how evil they are.
Because We Are NOT the Bad Guys.