Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Putting Terrorists on Trial

Well, this is going to be a digression from my normal dialog. You see, I believe in  our obligation as citizens to participate in our democracy, not to just sit back and watch as it happens. There are 2 things that I believe each citizen must do as an absolute minimum. The first is, of course, to vote. To not vote because you are too lazy or because you do not think it will count, or even because you don't like the choices presented, well, that just won't do. It evades responsibility, weakens the system and empowers those greedy and powerful people who rely on people not voting or participating to stay in power. The second thing I thing we all should do is to simply let our opinions be heard and to listen to the honest opinions of others (we are not required to agree, just to listen).
This, then, will be one of my vehicles for meeting this second obligation. Please don't get me wrong. I do not believe for a microsecond that anyone will read these lines, nor that they will have some even minor effect on the outcome of their subject. Such things are not my intent or purpose and I do not suffer from delusions (well, not those anyway).
My purpose is simply to record my opinion in a public format. To say to all who pass this way - hey, this is what I think about the things that my government is doing or how it should be. Accepting my opinions as fact just because I said them would be a mistake --and I do not ask that you agree with my (sometimes strange) opinions. I only ask that you just do one little thing - just respect my right to have and state them.... That is one of the things that makes us Americans different from many other cultures. We respect the opinions, religions and cultures of other people. OK, now that I have gotten that out, here's my opinion about putting terrorists on trial.
What They Are Going To Do
They are going to put several of the terrorists on trial in civilian court and have the trial take place in New York. These are some of the terrorists that participated in the cowardly and barbaric attack on September 11th.
There are 2 main sets of opinions on this. The first is the governments opnion and they say we must do this to show the world that these are criminals and that our justice system works. They believe that skirting our constitution weakens and degrades it and sends an entirely wrong message to everyone.
The second opinion seems to be that the terrorists should be put on trial in a military court, not as criminals, but as enemy combatants and that the proceedings should be kept semi-private to ensure the protection on sensitive intelligence matters.
Both of these opposing opinions have very valid points and, as you might have guessed, my opinion is torn between the 2. But since you can not put them on trial in both court systems - here is what I think we otght to be doing and why.
These terrorists are both criminals and enemy combatants. Clearly, they have participated in murder and conspiracy so they are criminals. Also, they do not wear uniforms but they fight for a specific entity which thinks of itself as being at war with the United States so they are also clearly enemy combatants. We could put them on trial in either format, at our discreation. It then becomes a question of which system would be best to ensure justice. The military system requires less strict rules of evidence and allows for greater security and would be more likely to ensure a conviction. The civilian court would be more open and would show we have faith in our justice system, but the civilian courts have stricter rules of evidence, a greater chance of an aquital as a result of a technicality or a 'hung jury' -while at the same time they have less control of the handling of secret or sensitive intelligence and national security matters.
What We Could Do
In spite of that, I think the civilian court would be the best way to go, BUT, only if the justice department used the trial as a forum to put terrorism, and specifically, Islamic Fanaticism, on trial as well. They would have to be willing to not talk of the victims of the attack in terms of numbers but in terms of nearly 3,000 victims. Show 2 pictures of each and every victim to the jury and the media - one picture of the person in normal life (like a portrait or family shot) and another picture of them as a victim - as they looked when the bodies were removed from the site of the attack. The prosecutors would have to be the best in the business and use the system to show the hipocrisy of killing innocent people in the name of a religion that says we are supposed to protect the innocent. We would have to use the trial not to just show the world what happened - but to shock the world with what is happening. Drag out every autrocity and make the world re-live the events, second by second. We could do it. We could use the trial to turn the "moderate'' followers of Islam against the extemists. We could rub the world's nose in what happened so hard they simply could not ignore it.
Unfortunately, I do not think that is what we should do.
I do not believe that our current Administration, and therefor, our current Department of Justice, has the will or conviction to conduct these trials in the necessary manner. I do not believe they are dedicated to seeing these people are held to the highest punishment possible. I also do not have confidence in their professional ability to get a conviction at all. I think they are simply wanting to have "a trial" so they can show we did it but are not truly determined to see that we ultimately succeed in that trial and that the terrorists are justly punished for killing 3000 people in cold blood and with premediation.
Additionally, I think the trial in civilian court will be used, not to expose the dangers and horrors of Islamic Extremist Terrorism - but to paint the terrorists as victims of the American justice system and as martyrs to the Islamic cause. The result will be the exaserbation of the problem - the exact opposite of the effect we should have from the trial.
What We Should Do

Since we can not count on the determination of the administration, the competence of our prosecutors, or the ethical behavior of our media, I think the military tribunals are the only alternative. The trials should take place soon and when convicted, the sentences should be carried out without unnecessary delay. If we can not use the system to expose and demonstrate the weaknesses of our enemies, they should be conducted in a way which prevents their being used against us. They should be as quiet and secret as possible. They should be quick and unfailing, without excessive appeals. Once convicted, the terrorosts should not be given any attention or publicity of any kind again. Just carry out the sentences, whatever they may be, and disallow any further outside contact. Just do not give them one more bit of attention - period.
A Last Thought
The simple fact is that we have now had 2 clear terrorist attacks on US soil since  Obama became President. There were no successful attacks while Bush was President. President Obama carried on may of President Bush's policies but in the area of national security he undermined the confidence of the CIA by threatening to investigate and prosecute people. His administration sent out a clear signal to the intelligence community by refusing to use the term "terrorist attack" or to refer to the terrorists as Islamic Extremists. The employees of these agencies were afraid to "stir things up" or to express a suspicion for fear of being labled a racist and of being penalized. The safe course in a civil service job is to keep quite. Unfortuneately, this does not work when your job is to be suspicious. Both of these attacks involved people our intelligence community knew about -but no one did anything! Why? Because they were afraid to. Because the administration made it clear that calling an army major a possible terrorist or to stop a Nigerian from entering the United States would run the risk of insulting the Islamic community and could mean trouble for the civil servant that spoke up.
These attacks were an unnecessary and direct result of President Obama's policies and, in my opinion, there is no question whatsoever that if these policies continue unchanged another sucessful attack will occur.
Post Script
There. I have stated my humble opinions, such as they are. And you know what? I do feel a little better about it now.
If you have anything to say about this, please feel free to leave me a comment.

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