A Manifest Disaster

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Two points about the strange decision to bring the 9/11 terrorists to New York: 

One, Senator Grassley’s point about federal attorneys and their past advocacy for detainees is worth listening to. I’ll leave it to Andy McCarthy to ascertain the legal ramifications of Grassley’s concern that there are lawyers in Eric Holder’s Justice Department who (a) may be involved in the decision-making that brings the terrorist combatant KSM and others to civil trials in New York, and (b) not so long ago either were pro bono attorneys working on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees or were employed by firms who provided such subsidized legal work for those at Gitmo.

If any of that were found to be accurate, it would obviously present serious conflict-of-interest problems. But more important than the legal ramifications would be the political consequences.

I don’t think the American people would take well to the idea that government prosecutors of the terrorists who had a hand in the murder of 3,000 Americans are, in some way, connected in the past with defense work on behalf of those very terrorists. That would be radioactive in political terms.

Two, we are now watching a very Orwellian development, as ACLU lawyers, civil libertarians, and liberal Obama-administration prosecutors all jostle to outbid one another in pretrial chest-pounding — boasting about the overwhelming evidence that will seal the fate of KSM. Our “don’t rush to judgment” president has also weighed in and assured the country that the “suspect” will be tried and convicted in federal court, before being executed. (Obama had better be careful: There may be one or two ACLU attorneys out there who are not quite on the administration bus and, in customary fashion, may use all that “pretrial” prejudicial publicity as grounds for moving the case to, say, San Francisco, or perhaps as the basis for some sort of pretrial dismissal motion.)

Apparently, the party line is something like this:

(1) We will try the terrorist detainees to show the world the singular strength of our justice system (and embarrass the prior administration).

(2) Since KSM is already guilty, we will convict and execute him to prove to the right wing that we are responsible in meting out death sentences to mass murderers of Americans.

(3) But if by chance KSM and others take advantage of the system (in the fashion that many of us have made quite lucrative past legal careers doing), it won’t matter, because in just this one exceptional case we will fudge a bit, and in Old West fashion either ensure his conviction and execution or, if he is acquitted, find an extralegal way to keep him incarcerated (in Guantanamo?).

In other words, liberal barristers are now rushing to judgment, in essence admitting that we will have show trials — public disclosures of all the evils of the Bush-Cheney era, but not to the point of imperiling the pre-established verdict, or, failing that, the pre-established perpetual detention. (I don’t think the excuse that “KSM got off because we had to uncover the Cheney waterboarding” will quite work this time.)

They all better be careful. Holding this trial is like letting a cobra loose in the living room: No one quite knows where it will squirm to, and when it will turn up to strike — only that if it does, the bite will be lethal.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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