Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He's Gonna Get To Us All Twice Over

There is something almost "Hollywood Blockbuster Sequel Extravaganza!" about the decision to bring alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to trial in a civilian court in lower Manhattan -- not a mile or two from the twin towers, not even ten city blocks from ground zero, but in fact a distance of perhaps six minutes' brisk walk from where bodies and glass and concrete rained down eight years ago.

My feelings about this are conflicted. It seems almost affording the man a privilege, to be brought to the scene of the 'crime of the century,' though of course there will almost certainly be other, worse, examples of man's inhumanity to man. And speaking of privilege: if the U.S. waterboarded KSM 183 times, according to reports, does he have the right to counter-sue for ill treatment in custody?

If this is to be a fair trial, and, remember, the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. is Harvard Law Professor Obama, there has to be somewhere the slim possibility that KSM could be acquitted on a technicality, and therefore, he'd get to walk. A technicality like, "They waterboarded me 183 times! I'd have confessed to sinking the Titanic after that." A fair trial includes pre-trial motions for disclosure: what might KSM's defense attorney ask for? One (presumably biased) right-wing American suggested at very least that KSM would want to air information about: "interrogations, renditions, secret prisons, undercover operations targeting Muslims and mosques..." Maybe KSM could take a racial profiling suit all the way to the Supreme Court?

Now of course I know that KSM has boasted of carrying out the planning of the attacks of 9/11 many times, which, in spite of the waterboarding, may make the prosecution's task much easier, but let us also consider an example from the recent past.

There are enormous differences in degree, magnitude -- but not much else different -- between the activities of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and the works of al Qaeda. It was the vigorous intent of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to treat the IRA as criminals, men and women who hid in ditches and hedges, houses and barns, so as to ambush police officers, soldiers, civilians with bullets and bombs, because, Thatcher said, the attackers were no different from pickpockets, car thieves, drug dealers and rapists. IRA members were tried -- sort of -- as if they murdered people the same way as Al Capone murdered people.

But of course they did not commit murder for the same reasons: as was often argued in and out of court, these people were motivated by political ideals which, no matter how repugnant, how disgusting their outworkings, were of a vastly different order from common criminality. In fact, a 'common criminal' might hope to keep the body count to a minimum, in order to stay ahead of the law. The whole point of political murder is to draw attention to your politics.

Thatcher herself said famously: "There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing or political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence." But hadn't she heard of George Washington? Of Michael Collins?(From County Cork!) Of the Stern Gang? Of any or all the successful 20th century 'freedom fighters' whose failure would have meant spending history in the column titled 'terrorists'?

If you are staring down the gun barrels of an imperial power against whom you have no legal redress in a court or at a ballot box, what would you do next? If that imperial power has already invaded your lands, arrested and tortured your neighbors, ask yourself how low would you go? I would not ever dare equate KSM with George Washington (KSM has already made that comparison himself*). Washington fought for liberty of some kind; KSM presumably would want to successfully impose some form of Islamic legal bullshit on everyone. But at some point someone has to ask why KSM and his pals were motivated to do what they did. And in an ordinary court of law, no prosecutor can conclude his or her remarks with a George W. Bush form of words such as: "and so I call for the death penalty because we think the defendant is pure evil."

Through all of the recent talk about post-George Bush America no longer torturing there runs as usual a strange naivete. "We don't torture," is the mantra I've read and heard, here and there. Of course I want to live in a world where no one is waterboarded. Of course I want to live in an America where no one is tortured, least of all tortured by having to read my blog. But extending to KSM a trial in, of all places, the scene of his greatest triumph, seems guaranteed to torture all of us, from the families of victims to the average commuter. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, can't justice be done by quietly dropping KSM on his head?

*From a Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal, KSM's own words: Same language you use, I use. When you are invading two- thirds of Mexican, you call your war manifest destiny. It up to you to call it what you want. But other side are calling you oppressors. If now George Washington. If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington he being arrested through Britain. For sure he, they would consider him enemy combatant. But American they consider him as hero. This right the any Revolutionary War they will be as George Washington or Britain. So we are considered American Army bases which we have from seventies in Iraq. Also, in the Saudi Arabian, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. This is kind of invasion, but I'm not here to convince you.