The 9/11 trial Clueless Moment of the Day

posted at 10:12 am on November 24, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

One might expect a major media outlet like McClatchy to engage an editor or two, even for its featured columnists.  One might also expect said columnist to do a little dot-connecting on a subject before writing about it, especially when casting the upcoming federal trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court instead of a military tribunal as something that will, in Leonard Pitt’s words, show that “we can still afford to act like America.” And what precedent does Pitts use to declare this trial a restorative for the American way? Three guesses:

It’s worth remembering that even the architects of the greatest barbarism in history had their day in court. After burning away 11 million lives, the leaders of the Nazi regime found themselves facing not summary execution, but a trial before a military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.

As prosecutor Robert Jackson put it: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”

And when the trials were over and the verdicts delivered — death or imprisonment for most, three were acquitted — the New York Times editorialized as follows: “These sentences can neither atone for all the evil these men have brought into the world nor undo any part of it. But they help to assuage the conscience of mankind and to restore to honor the concept of the dignity of man which cannot be violated with impunity.”

Compare that with the Bush administration’s original, Supreme Court-rebuked vision of justice — minimal rights for the accused, torture allowed, the government’s thumb on justice’s scale — and maybe you’ll agree: We need this trial more than Mohammed does. For all its risks — and they are real — it offers a prize worth risking for: the promise of feeling like Americans again.

Er, did Pitts miss the point here by a country mile or what? He’s holding up the Nuremberg trials as a standard of justice — and the Nuremberg trials were, as Pitts himself notes, military tribunals. And unlike Nuremberg, the original Congressional (not “Bush”) law for the 9/11 military commissions allowed more rights than those given Nuremberg defendants, including limited access to appeals through the federal court system.  The Nuremberg defendants had no access to American federal courts, and they had no appeals; those who received the death penalty were executed within hours of their sentencing. Is that the kind of justice Pitts desires to feel “like an American again”?

But that’s not even the issue now, anyway.  The original 2006 military commission law got replaced by a Democratic Congress in 2007.  The “original, Supreme Court-rebuked vision of justice” that Pitts ignorantly declares inferior to the tribunal system at Nuremberg has been replaced by one that the Supreme Court has thus far allowed to continue.  That system is designed to try war criminals like KSM and his cohorts, which the White House plans to use for other Gitmo detainees.  Do those military commissions mean an end to “feeling like Americans again”?

It’s not often that one runs across a column quite so clueless as this one by Leonard Pitts and published by McClatchy.  Maybe Pitts should take a little time to learn about history and current law before opining on this topic again.


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