Justice American Style


by Kristen Breitweiser,
9/11 widow and activist
November 16, 2009

Even after witnessing the horrors of 9/11 that included me helplessly watching the murder of my husband on live television, I still believe that we are a civilized nation of laws. And like the Nuremberg trials that brought the murderers of millions to justice, now more than ever, Americans need to trust our own judicial system to fully and openly  prosecute the mass murderers of 9/11 while the rest of the world bears witness.

Because while the terrorists were successful in bringing down the Twin Towers and hijacking airplanes on 9/11, our Constitution should never be hijacked or brought down as a result of anything–let alone the potential adversity faced in prosecuting modern day monsters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Indeed, in the fight against Islamist extremism, we should never bow to the terrorists by compromising, manipulating, re-writing or flat-out ignoring the core, bedrock principles of our Constitution that speak to the very heart of who we are as a nation–a democracy.

Yet, quite alarmingly, Republicans seem to be exhibiting just this sort of crisis of confidence in our Constitution’s ability to prosecute these horrible men. Republicans argue that men like KSM are war criminals who can only be convicted in military commissions where they won’t receive the protections of our laws. Republicans seem to lack a certain faith in our Constitution’s ability and adaptability in meting out the demands of modern day justice.

So the once-brazen, chest-thumping Republicans who preemptively started a war in Iraq, claimed mission accomplished, and ordained that they wanted Osama Bin Laden’s head on a platter, are now off crying in a corner lost in their own feigned anger and fear. Complaining that it will be too dangerous. Worried that it will make New York City a target.

First, I’ve got news for anyone who didn’t already know this: New York has been, is, and will always be a terrorist target. That’s why many of us wanted millions spent on hardening domestic soft targets like NYC (and mass transportation systems, chemical plants, nuclear plants, borders, etc). But after 9/11, the Bush Administration chose instead to spend billions on starting a war in Iraq.

Indeed, in the quantitative analysis of what truly makes us a terrorist target, holding a trial in the Southern District of New York does not top the list. The war in Iraq wins that contest hands down. And the Bush Administration’s illegal torture policies come in at a close second. These are the things that have fomented the most hatred towards Americans and placed us at the highest risk from terrorist attack.

To be clear, the only danger posed by prosecuting men like KSM in an open court in New York is the red alert it poses to the Republican Party’s faltering reputation in fighting their “war on terror.”

And that is the real reason why Republicans are supporting the use of military commissions instead of Article III courts. Because military commissions are held in secret.  Republicans want the dirty, damning truth about their failed torture policies to remain hidden away from public view. And they’ll use every lame excuse in the book to get their way.

God forbid, the truth came out about torture. Imagine the worst–that KSM, one of the world’s most heinous terrorists, is set free after the evidence needed to convict him is thrown out because it was illegally obtained through torture. Imagine further that KSM’s torture bore no fruit at all–in other words, it provided no information that prevented  any attacks or saved any lives. In essence, KSM’s torture proved useless and counter-productive. Talk about a public relations nightmare for the party who once with grand  cowboy swagger announced that they’d bring ’em all to justice.

But will KSM ever walk free? Absolutely not. First, haven’t we all seen enough Law & Order re-runs to know that prosecutors don’t proceed with cases unless they know they’ve got the goods to convict? Not to mention that KSM also made a self-admission about planning the 9/11 attacks on al-Jazeera long before he was captured and tortured by our government. So I’m confident that even taking into account all the mishandling and mistakes made by the Bush Administration, KSM will not be set free.

However, remain cognizant that were such an acquittal even remotely possible, it would not be due to any shortcomings of our nation’s 200-year-old, well-established legal process. Nor would it be a result of some wily terrorist making a “mockery of our rule of law.” Rather, responsibility for such a ghastly acquittal would fall squarely on the shoulders of Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Alberto Gonzales–those who in a panic after 9/11, breathlessly ordered the illegal use of torture because they didn’t know what else to do. And that, folks, is the big dark dirty secret that Republicans don’t want any of us to find out.

But, the prosecutors in the Southern District of NY do know what their doing–especially when it comes to winning terrorist convictions. Moreover, long established safeguards will be in place to protect sources, methods and any other classified information from leaking to the public. In fact, because we are a democracy, KSM will be given a fair trial, in an open courtroom facing certain and swift justice just steps from Ground Zero. And once convicted, he will receive the maximum penalty–death.

When that happens, 8 years after 9/11, justice will have finally prevailed.

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