May 21, 2006


Big Fish: It's time to put the al-Qaida ringleaders on trial (Dahlia Lithwick, May 20, 2006, Slate)

Four and a half years after Sept. 11, we are still struggling to decide whether this "War on Terror" should be fought in courts, on a battlefield, or in some black hole in between. The government uses courts to prosecute low-level terrorists: the guys who trained at camps in Afghanistan, or played paintball in the Virginia woods. But it uses the rules of war, modified for its own convenience, to indefinitely hold the ringleaders either at Guantanamo or at so-called "black sites" around the world. Those black sites were appealing precisely because the government intended to hold no trials. There was never a plan for what would happen next.

For years now, the government has been holding key plotters and participants in the attacks of 9/11. People from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—considered by the 9/11 Commission to be the "principal architect" of the attacks—to Ramzi Bin al-Scheib, the alleged paymaster. People like Abu Zubaida, one of Osama Bin Laden's chief recruiters, and Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man alleged to be the real "20th hijacker." These men, and other "big fish" like them, have been held for interrogation that may have amounted to torture—be it Mohammed's alleged water-boarding, or sexual degradation and sleep deprivation. They long ago exhausted their intelligence value. And now, if the government is finished with them, we the people should get a crack at them. Americans are entitled to their Nuremburg.

Except that Americans don't want to repeat the Nuremburg travesty, we want to string these guys up like Mussolini in a gas station in Milan [Ohio in our case].

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2006 12:23 PM

Lithwick is Slate's legal reporter of course, so this piece is not too far from, say, Carl Bernstein calling for the government to stage a few more break-ins.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 21, 2006 12:58 PM

These people will never get it.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 21, 2006 1:09 PM

This is all worked out already.

War criminals and those accused of crimes against humanity get trial by special commission. They get a lawyer, but not a civilian jury. The rules of evidence are relaxed, relative to a civilian trial.

I agree that the Guantanemo affair is dragging on excessively. We don't know enough to determine whether this is because of inertia or diplomacy. Obviously, we would not release the Nazi u-boot commandos before V-E day.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 21, 2006 1:46 PM


Isn't it true that the only countries which will take these characters plan some real torture followed by a quick trip to paradise.

One of the many very real dangers of Republicans/neo/paleo/and other conservatives sending Bush a message by staying home and not voting, is if the left gets in power, there'll be an orgy of televised trials for Gitmo prisoners with lawyers raking in the big bucks and our military, intelligence agencies, the Depts. of Defense and State personnel being subpoenaed.

A super circus which would be very difficult to overcome.

Posted by: erp at May 21, 2006 3:07 PM

Nuremburg was a mistake we should consign to the dustbin of history. It was a set of show trials, plain and simple. The results were never in doubt. But the Dahlia Lithwicks wish to rewrite the history of Nuremburg before imposing it. What Lithwick either doesn't know, or conveniently ignores, is that the Nuremburg courts wrote their own rules of evidence before trying the Nazi defendants. For example, one of the charges was something like indiscriminately killing civilians, which was deemed a crime against humanity. Before the trials, the Nuremburg judges foresaw that the Nazis would claim (and prove) that the Allies had engaged in the same conduct (e.g. the firebombing of Dresden). Thus the judges created a rule of evidence that no conduct of the Allied powers was relevant, and thus inadmissible. Voila, problem solved. I doubt, however, that this is what Lithwick has in mind.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at May 21, 2006 6:46 PM

And remember, it's "My-lin" Ohio, We'll have no one calling it "Mil-on"

Posted by: Dave W at May 21, 2006 8:28 PM

The point of the article is that these trials are to be about the Bush Administration. Lithwick thinks this is the best way to punish them. She cares nothing for the terrorists being put on trial.

Posted by: Pepys at May 22, 2006 1:20 AM