Alex Massie

Trying KSM in NYC

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On the whole I'm sympathetic to the Obama administration's desire to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York City. That is, dealing with this kind of terrorism is a matter of law-enforcement as well as, in other respects, a military matter. And yet, despite all the talk about how putting KSM on trial is an affirmation of superior, civilised values and all the rest of it, I'm not sure that the trial will be quite the propaganda victory some think it may be. 

Ruth Marcus happily spares one the job of dealing with a typically atrocious Michael Gerson column which alleges, ludicrously, that the ACLU is now running the Justice Department and that the Attorney-General's interpretation of the Constitution is, amazingly, some kind of "suicide pact". But in doing so Marcus also, perhaps unwittingly, undermines the case for these civilian trials:

Federal law contains sufficient safeguards to protect sources and methods, and you can be sure that the Justice Department made a careful assessment that it could obtain a conviction without harmful disclosure. The risk of acquittal is negligible, although I think that word may be overstating things. More important, even if Mohammed were somehow acquitted, it’s not as if he would saunter off to brunch in Tribeca. He’d no doubt be indicted and held on other charges, or preventively detained.

Quite. And so, while the verdict can hardly be said to be in much doubt, it's not a proper trial. It is, as perhaps it must be, a Show Trial since, as even the scheme's supporters admit, there is no possibility that the accused can be released, even if cleared. Now, sure, this is all somewhat hypothetical but I can't help but feel that far from demonstrating the superiority of American justice, this plan cheapens and undermines that justice since, in the end, it also mocks it. KSM is guilty, but that doesn't mean this game isn't also rigged. And that, I'd wager, is how it will be seen in other parts of the world.

In that respect, then, for all the temptations to the contrary, I wonder if a military tribunal might not have been a better, or at least no more imperfect, option.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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