The third way to consider the trials is to look at Ground Zero itself. After eight years of deliberation, planning, money and effort, what have we got? The picture nearby is the answer.

Let me be more precise. After eight years in which the views and interests of, inter alia, the Port Authority, NYPD, MTA and EPA, the several governors of New York and New Jersey, lease-holder Larry Silverstein, various star architects, the insurance companies, contractors, unions and lawyers, the families of the bereaved, their self-appointed spokespersons, the residents of lower Manhattan and, yes, even the fish of the Hudson river have all been duly consulted and considered, this is what we’ve got: a site of mourning turned into a symbol of defiance turned into a metaphor of American incompetence—of things not going forward. It is, in short, the story of our decade.

Barack Obama, energetic and smart, was elected largely to change all that. But the thrust of his presidency so far has been in the direction of bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos. And now this: An effort to demonstrate the purity of our methods and motives that is destined, as all these things have been, to wind up as the legal equivalent of Ground Zero. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for whom no real justice will ever be meted, understood his targets well.