Thursday, May 04, 2006

Show Trial

Not so long ago, we fell into an impromptu conversation in the wee hours early one morning with three bleary-eyed O'Hare Airport employees, one of them a highly-placed security person for the airport. Very highly placed.

The subject turned to Homeland Security and the airport security measures we're all familiar with: the metal detectors, the shoe thing, the matches-but-no-lighters business, the uniformed cops ticketing curb-idling vehicles, etc. etc.

"It's all for show," the security executive said. "It has zero effect on your security. It's all about fooling the public into thinking we're doing something to make them safe."

We were reminded of that yesterday after hearing the outcome of the Zacharias Moussaouwi sentencing verdict. The jury determined Moussaouwi, whom the Government repeatedly claimed without a scrap of evidence was the '20th hijacker', should receive life imprisonment and not a death sentence.

It's clear from the jury's answers to the lengthy verdict form, which is available on line, that they saw through the fog of lawyering. In effect, the jury concluded the prosecutor's demand for Moussaouwi's death was unjustified. As Dahlia Lithwick writes in a Slate.com article today:
[A]lthough the government has steadfastly stood by its legal claim that it was enough for Moussaoui to have wanted to be on those planes on 9/11, enough for him to have delighted as those planes went down, the jurors recognized... that a conspiracy to aid in a terror plot requires more than just a bad heart, and more than mere willingness to participate in the next one.

This decision... is more subtle, and more courageous, than the prosecution itself. Acting as a check on a runaway state, these jurors refused to allow a government needing a scapegoat and a man wishing for martyrdom to stand in the way of the facts. These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours.
Like the visible but ineffective security at airports, the trial of the patently deranged Zacharias Moussaouwi was merely for show, a theater production staged in a courtroom to delude the public into supposing that the Government is protecting America from another terrorist attack.

The truth is "more subtle," to use Lithwick's phrase. As a people we are capable of facing it with the same courage the Moussaouwi jury summoned. That means, among other things, confronting what David D. Savage identifies today in the Los Angeles Times as a "central contradiction" in the fight against terrorism: that the Bush administration puts "bit players on trial, while those thought to have orchestrated the plots have been held in secret for questioning."

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, to name just two known al Qaeda operatives widely believed to have been central to the 9-11 attacks, have been in U.S. custody for over three years. But they've never been charged with a crime, much less brought to a "speedy trial." The reason, in all likelihood, is we have tortured them.

"They cannot be prosecuted because of the way they have been interrogated," as law professor Michael Greenberger, a terrorism expert, said this morning on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. "They have been subjected to very aggressive questioning, and any statements they made now can't be used against them." Adds Greenberger:
"That has been the irony of the Moussaoui case from the beginning. We have prosecuted a marginal character who appeared unmoored from reality, while the real planners of the crime will not be brought before justice in the United States."
A New York Times editorial points out today that we also have created a grostesque embarrassment with the Guantanamo prison facility:
"So far only 10 of the 490 people still stashed away in Guantánamo have ever been charged with anything. The rest were hauled up before military proceedings that were a joke."
No doubt the Government has done some things right since 9-11 to strengthen domestic security, but as Al Gore persuasively argued in a seminal speech we took note of early this year, in too many ways this has been counter-balanced by an administration that "fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy."

Yesterday's verdict stands as a powerful antidote to that. After more than 40 hours deliberating Moussaoui fate, twelve citizens drafted into jury service have done more to rescue the nation's reputation and its moral compass than the entirety of the U.S. Justice Department, Homeland Security, and the Pentagon combined.

Amplification Dept.

Billmon, as often, offers a unique and thoughtful assessment of the Moussaoui trial.

Sample: "It's a continuing mystery to me why the Cheney administration thinks that the modest (at best) intelligence benefits of the Guantanamo hellhole are worth the propaganda nightmare it has become."

1 comment:

Bryan said...

If they had understood how al Qaeda functioned they would have known that it was highly unlikely that anyone captured would have any useful intelligence after their mission was completed. It would be years between missions.

They just don't understand what's going on or how to combat it.

The country would have gotten a real boost and the 9-11 families would have gotten some closure if we had actually tried and convicted someone directly involved in the plot.

That's why the capture of Osama is important.