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Political Animal

Fear Merchants

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/25/2009

Seriously, I'm starting to think some people have watched too many Die Hard movies.

OK, so for years we hear about how if everyone were armed, there'd be a lot less crime in this country, because either the criminals would be afraid of the armed people, or they could be shot by those armed people in the commission of those crimes they'd be committing.

Yet for the most part, the politicians who make or defend these kinds of arguments also seem to be the ones who are ramping up the fear when it comes to trying the terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay in domestic federal courts. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) was quoted last week on the floor of the House of Representatives taunting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"I saw the mayor of New York said today," Shadegg said. "'We're tough. We can do it.' Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped at school by a terrorist? How are you going to feel when it's some clerk--some innocent clerk of the court--whose daughter or son is kidnapped?  Or the jailer's little brother or little sister? This is political correctness run amok."

Maybe he's right. Maybe we should get John McClane on call, so that in case the inevitable happens, and some scary, swarthy, foreign-accented terrorist with his eeevil master plan holds New York hostage, the angriest semi-ex-cop in all of film can be ready to show up, snarl "Yippie-ki-ay, motherfucka," and kick some ass.

A few months back, Jon Stewart pointed out that we're not trying supervillains here--this is not Magneto we're putting on trial. It is Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, a man who we captured in 2003, have held in solitary confinement for years, tortured almost out of his mind, and who will be tried in the same courts where we tried Ramzi Yousef, who happens to be Muhammad's nephew.

How did it work out for Yousef, who first bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, you might ask? Well, for starters, we didn't start a war over it. Two agents of the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (the same people who helped catch Muhammad) captured him two years later in Pakistan and extradited him to the United States, where he was tried in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York and sentenced to life in prison without parole, which he is serving in a Supermax prison in Colorado.

Of course, I'm sure you remember Yousef's long, 17-minute rambling rant where he said "Yes, I am a terrorist and proud of it as long as it is against the U.S. government." You remember where the television networks broadcast that on cable television, live, over and over again for hours? Yeah, me neither--they don't allow cameras in federal courts. So much for an O.J.-style "show trial" with lots of grandstanding and analysis by Greta Van Susteren with commentary from Glenn Beck about how it all weakens America. (But, boy, wouldn't Fox News love that, huh? Ratings gold, I'm tellin' ya.)

Yet House Minority Leader John Boehner (Oh.) said in a statement that trying Muhammad in Manhattan "puts the interests of liberal special interest groups before the safety and security of the American people. The possibility that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators could be found 'not guilty' due to some legal technicality just blocks from Ground Zero should give every American pause."

Really? So Boehner, someone who probably might break out into a chorus of "God Bless America" at any prompting, thinks that in defiance of the Constitution and more than 200 years of legal precedent and reasoning, we should just give him a kangaroo trial, declare him guilty and ship him off to prison, or perhaps better, arrange a nice public execution (broadcast, of course, on Fox News)?

 Both Boehner and Liz Cheney, daughter of the ex-vice president, think that Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try Muhammad and the other terrorism suspects in New York reflects a "pre-9/11 mentality." Well, maybe it does--perhaps it reflects a 1995 mentality, where we had another sensible chief executive who didn't believe in star chambers, torture, indefinite detention on foreign shores, and questionable legal theories like the former vice president.

Holder said in response to Boehner's rhetoric, "I'm not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial and no one else needs to be afraid either . . . We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready." Holder, unlike the administration's critics, seems to remember back when we knew how to handle terrorists, and that didn't include blind panic and fear.

Let's also remember that the military-commission system so favored by the Bush administration only produced three convictions in eight years, and as two members of Bush's Department of Justice pointed out in The Washington Post, Osama bin Laden's driver, the only person who had a full trial under the commissions, would have likely gotten a longer sentence before a federal court judge.

So send 'em to New York and ignore what the critics say. If it makes them feel any safer, John McClane can be sent in as backup.

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