A lack of faith in the American system of justice
Dick Polman, Inquirer National Political Columnist
The Obama administration's decision, announced Friday, to prosecute the avowed 9/11 mastermind in federal court struck me as a no-brainer that didn't require any comment. After all, the U.S. Constitution and the American rule of law - which we routinely tout as models for the rest of the world - seem more than adequate to the task. But I am now inspired to comment further, after having seen Rudy Giuliani running scared Sunday morning on three different networks.
Surely Obama's detractors can do better than to be fronted by the likes of Rudy Giuliani.
The decision to prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged conspirators in a Manhattan civilian court is "a pre-9/11 approach," according to the well-marketed hero of 9/11. Giuliani told Fox News yesterday: "The choice of New York is a better choice for the terrorists." He told CNN: "It's an unnecessary advantage to give to the terrorists. I don't know why you want to give terrorists advantages."
Giuliani's attacks on Obama were fascinating...given the fact that, back when George W. Bush was president, he had no problem with prosecuting terrorists in federal court. In fact, three years ago, when 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was successfully prosecuted as a civilian in a federal court in Virginia, Giuliani essentially vetted the proceedings by showing up to testify. And then he had this to say:
"I was in awe of our system. It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly as we say we are. We are a nation of law. I think he (Moussaoui) is going to be a symbol of American justice."
And even back in the Bill Clinton era, when the '93 World Trade Center bombers were successfully prosecuted in federal court, Giuliani was full of praise again. Here he was, on March 5, 1994: "It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world, that it works well, that that is the place to seek vindication...(The guilty verdict) demonstrates that New Yorkers won't meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon - the law."
Giuliani was asked yesterday to square his current complaints with his '94 statements; in reply, he said the comparison is "silly," since he now believes that his '94 statements were "a mistake." He never got around to saying whether his far more recent praise for the Moussaoui civilian trial was a mistake. Or whether he thought that the Bush administration had made a mistake in 2003 by seeking to prosecute shoe-bomber Richard Reid in federal court (where Reid pleaded guilty). Or whether, during the post-9/11 era, it has been a mistake to have roughly 110 terrorism cases prosecuted in federal courts - with 145 convictions.
But never mind the ample track record of civilian-court prosecutions, and never mind whatever Giuliani said in the past. The real problem is his current argument (shared by the usual anti-Obama suspects), which suggests that the U.S. courts are not strong enough to handle these new prosecutions, and that the trial will become propaganda grist for the bad guys. (Over the weekend, this argument was seconded by that renowned genius of jurisprudence, Sarah Palin, who wrote on Facebook that Obama's "atrocious decision" will give Mohammed "the opportunity to spew his hateful rhetoric.")
In response, I simply ask: Why do these people have so little apparent faith in the American system of justice and the Constitution itself?
Of course such a trial will give Mohammed the opportunity to spew, but the terrorists are spewing all the time, in statements and video messages; they hardly need the excuse of a court trial to spew anew. Why are Giuliani and the other critics running scared? How come they have so little optimism that the American message would trump the terrorist message in the global marketplace of ideas? Shouldn't they be eager to display our freedoms to the world, to advertise judicial fair play and the fundamental constitutional values that have made us great?
It was Ronald Reagan, after all, who believed that we couldn't lose in any open contest of ideologies. It was the George W. Bush administration that prosecuted the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker in a federal civilian court, prompting Giuliani to say of the proceedings,"I was in awe of our system." Shouldn't we all feel just as patriotic today?