Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Here We Go Again

The first charges finally have come down relating to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S. is seeking the death penalty against six men held in Guantanamo Bay, including the alleged mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The government has had years to build its case; the defense teams have yet to be chosen. But the government still hasn’t figured out what laws apply to Guantanamo and what do not. There hasn’t been a U.S. military execution since 1961; the Pentagon has only one lawyer on its military commissions team qualified to prosecute a death penalty case; and several of the suspects have been interrogated under what might or might not have been torture, even by U.S. standards.

The process, started under George W. Bush, and arranged by his administration, won’t be finished until his successor is in office. Does all this begin to sound familiar?

You’ve got “George W. Bush,” “Guantanamo” and “waterboarding” in the same sentence. That sound you hear is heads exploding all across the European elite class. The U.S. government, showing its tenacity in learning nothing, has instructed its officials abroad to defend the trials in part by reference to the Nuremberg Trials, a horrible example of both victors’ justice and subjecting military men to retroactive laws and international tribunals — hell, the Soviets had a seat on the judges' bench.

Among the new laws that have come into play since 1961 is one from 2006 that allows the secretary of the army to authorize the location of a military execution (formerly they had to be done at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas). He could choose Guantanamo as an execution site and thus remove the condemned men from the appeals system. That’s just one of the possible permutations.

It would frustrate a great many Americans if these hateful thugs escaped the death penalty because our own government bungled its case. That could happen here. But a worse frustration would be to see the criminals executed without the fullest and fairest trial we can extend to them. It would besmirch our national virtues and confirm the slander of generations of anti-Americans, both at home and abroad.

There is another consideration to bear in mind. As one observer has said of the Sept. 11 suspects, “They want to be martyrs. If we execute them, we fulfill their greatest wish. This is a long process of them getting what they want, and that makes us all less safe.” And what might be a fitting punishment for such men? Let them live to see their dogma fail and their cause kicked to history’s curb.