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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not the master of magnetism


A poll today shows that New Yorkers narrowly favor trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in their city, and this is being treated as a surprise in some quarters. New York sure is brave! More baffling were the lawmakers who cowered when faced with the prospect of holding terrorists in Supermax prisons in the continental United States, as if hatred of America gave men super strength.

These guys took down a plane with box cutters. They used crude weapons to attack a far more sophisticated and effective fighting force. The most fearsome of them was captured at home, in his pajamas. It's not like we're putting Magneto on trial and need to keep him away from metal filings.

It's one thing to be afraid of terrorism. But there's no real reason to be afraid of terrorists, and as Daphne Eviatar argues, there's good reason not to look like you're afraid of terrorists:

The contrast of seeing these ordinary-looking men on trial in an orderly U.S. courtroom — where they’re accorded the right to a lawyer, the right to speak in their own defense and the right to call witnesses — could go a long way toward publicly revealing the absurdity of their cause, as well as the justice that a fair and functioning legal system can provide.

Trying these guys publicly, as well as holding them in normal prisons like common criminals, is good public relations. Being a terrorist is a more appealing prospect if the world's sole superpower appears to cower before your might than it is if you end up trapped in the American legal system, forced to submit to endless cross-examination and consultation with attorneys and other bureaucratic humiliations. Lots of people want to be super villains. But who wants to be a henchman? Being held on a fortified military island and tortured by a country that can't seem to get you to talk is a much more glorious finish than a long and dull trial that ends with you serving time in central New Jersey.

Photo credit: 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. via Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  November 17, 2009; 5:54 PM ET
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Of course all of this is true, but what we're dealing with is a GOP that at once lives in bed wetting paranoia of terrorists as if guys like KSM really are the Joker, but more broadly they're using this is a proxy argument for the police action vs war debate about how to pursue and deal with the threat of these mass murderers. With them obviously in favor of "war" against terrorists, as opposed to treating them like the hateful mass murderers they are.

Sometimes the GOP is so complicit in maintaining the role of useful idiot to the jihadists you could wonder if they arent being advised by bin Laden from the cave.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 17, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm not much of a believer in sham trials, but the ACLU says this is the best way so I support that. There will be no winners here.

Posted by: bmull | November 17, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

well put ezra. (even though i never watched x-men.)

Posted by: schaffermommy | November 17, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

thank you! the idea that it's somehow a threat to our safety and security to bring ksm to lower manhattan is ridiculous. it's the definition of bowing to the terrorists / letting the terrorists win / whatever rhetoric you want.

Posted by: rmbjspd | November 17, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't know, I think Henchman 21 is pretty cool. Maybe they'll aspire to be him.

Posted by: careful1 | November 17, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

That's General 21 now, Careful1.

Posted by: russell1820 | November 17, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, and we all know that this trial is just going to give the terrorists a platform to run around spouting nonsense. MECHA-SHIVA! MECHA-SHIVA!

Posted by: djdreamshade | November 17, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

as a resident of Central NJ I say Thanks but no thanks.

but seriously I think some of the concerns are that in a trial in NYC the terrorists will have a world stage to spread their message to current and future followers. They'll see them as martyrs (although in a military tribunal they'll likely see them the same but in a much less public vain).

I think they're doing the right thing but I'm also not going to rubber stamp it like most will on here. God forbid they ever get acquitted on a technicality. Dems would NEVER see a majority or the White House. Now I don't even think that would happen but God forbid.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Treating them like criminals means that we could have handled all of this as a criminal matter - which means we wasted a TRILLION dollars on fighting "terror" ( an emotion ). Treating these criminals like criminals means the Bush/Cheney took us to war for no good reason - 4681 dead in iraq, 1519 in Afganistan, 50,000 or more seriously wounded physically, many more mentally.

Handling them any other way than a fair trial elevates them and diminishes US. Close Gitmo and put them on trial. These guys are less scary that Chicago gang-bangers.

Posted by: eddiefast | November 18, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

*I think some of the concerns are that in a trial in NYC the terrorists will have a world stage to spread their message to current and future followers.*

Yes, we all know how Adolph Eichmann and Charles Manson were able to attract millions of followers to their movements because they were given a public trial.

How is it that we have gotten to a point where we suddenly are able to acquire concerns that we didn't even know we had until a talking head on TV told us we should be concerned about it?

Posted by: constans | November 18, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I was using the same reference to Magneto yesterday when I was talking to someone about these criminal trials. Heck, I can't come up with ANY Ian McKellen characters who aren't much more worthy of respect and fear than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Seriously, would you be willing to bet against a prison break by Gandalf the Grey? Iago? Number Two? Death? Tsar Nicholas? That's when you break out the big guns, not on some mass-murdering lowlife.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | November 18, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Dude, why does that picture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed look like he is making Fromunda Cheese? I don't want any, Thank you.

Posted by: JustinMcC | November 18, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I like Fafblog's take on what to do with the rest of the terror detainees:

"Everybody else has to stay in Special Torture Jail forever on accounta they have all come down with Schrodinger's Guilt. If they stay in the box they might be guilty, but if we open the box they might not be."

Posted by: JonathanTE | November 21, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: JonathanTE | November 21, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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