- April 08, 2011
The Obama administration’s announcement that the alleged ‘9/11 mastermind’ Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators will be tried by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay rather than in a New York federal court is not good news, but nor is it very surprising Obama’s Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr has blamed the Republican-dominated Congress for blocking the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to civilian courts.
This may be partly true, but it is also questionable whether Obama really has the political will to follow through on the electoral commitments that he made to terminate some of the more egregious exceptional procedures introduced during the Bush terrorwars. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which is currently carrying out McCarthyite investigations into the extent of Islamic radicalism in the United States, has celebrated the decision, claiming that:
Today’s reversal is yet another vindication of President Bush’s detention policies by the Obama administration and is welcome news to the families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who will finally see long-awaited justice.
This is nonsense. Putting KSM and co. on trial in a federal court was always going to be a difficult and risky enterprise, from the point of view of achieving justice. All five men were subjected to the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and Mohammed was reportedly ‘waterboarded’ nearly two hundred times following his arrest. Though all five have pleaded guilty to the charges against them, defence lawyers could have argued – not unreasonably – that their confessions were extracted through torture and were therefore invalid.
Nevertheless, federal prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to get convictions, and such evidence should have been presented and scrutinised by the public in an open court. The motivations and intentions behind the 9/11 attacks have never been fully explained or clarified – let alone by their alleged protagonists, and a civilian trial might have provided a public opportunity to do so. As Ray McGovern has argued, it is questionable whether the US government really wants such a clarification.
Instead the world’s most powerful democracy has opted to continue the Bush administration’s trajectory and entrust the ‘trial’ to the military, in a process that, whatever Peter King says, is unlikely to serve the cause of truth or justice.