I’ve wondered why some people object to putting accused terrorists on trial in civilian courts; today, Houston attorney and Navy veteran Patrick McCann wonders the same thing and offers a thoughtful position on the value of such trials.
My default belief? People who hijack planes and set off bombs are committing crimes, particularly if they aren’t wearing the uniform of a country that’s declared war on us when they do it. So why wouldn’t we try them in civilian court? McCann notes that we, in fact, have, without the courtroom becoming the target of another attack:
the sky does not actually fall when trials occur, even trials of, say, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker, who now rots in prison. Or that of the original shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is also in prison. Or that of Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the “blind sheikh,” who first tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. Remember him? Well, if you don’t, it is probably because he was tried and sentenced to life in prison in the federal district court of New York. He now is living out his days at the “supermax” prison in Colorado. By the way, Timothy McVeigh, a man who tragically succeeded in blowing up innocent people, was also tried and executed in the federal court system.
As for the worry that an Al Qaeda defendant would use the public trial to condemn us, and tout his beliefs: as they say, bring it on.
The battleground of ideas is not fought by weapons of propaganda but by truth. There can be no simpler, greater truth than to place men such as the most recent tool of these fanatics on public trial, broadcast for the world. Let him spout an ideology that requires the murder of fellow Muslims, the enslavement of women and the use of suicide bombers to carry the word of God. Let him do so in a public court, where the record is tested by his lawyers and where the truth emerges in front of 12 citizens and the rest of the world. Let him try and twist the truth, as he certainly will, because he will fail. Let every person across the globe see the difference between the vision of the power-mad old men who command the vulnerable to slaughter in God’s name and the reality of life and liberty in a place that treats even these fools with decency.
There is no simpler way to reveal these people for what they truly are, and no better way to show the world who we are. That is how the battle gets won, not by hysterical fear of a trial, nor by making these men out to be somehow too powerful for our system to deal with. They are not. It actually helps them to think our politicians and pundits are pandering to panic and fear when they read that they are too dangerous to hold in the United States. They do not deserve such mythic status, and our cowering pundits and public figures should not give it to them.
Today the attorney general said he decided a civilian court was good enough for the underwear bomber, and got no objection from military or intelligence (insert your own joke here). A good sign, I think.