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In New York, Flanked by Lawyers

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"I'm not scared of what (self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed) would say at trial," Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee as he defended his decision to prosecute Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 planners in a federal criminal court.

I'm not scared of what KSM has to say in court either. I'm scared of what a federal judge might say and do.

Mohammed already has said, "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z." By handing the 9/11 Five over to the federal court system, the Obama administration has opened the door for other federal judges to issue rulings that affect or delay the trial and/or punishment.

I'm scared that even a federal judge not presiding over the Trial of The Century could muck it up. Consider California, where in February 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel blocked an execution because there was a .0000000000001 chance that a convicted rapist/murderer facing execution might feel pain when administered a three-drug cocktail. In so ruling, Fogel blocked not only that killer's execution, but also any other execution in California.

I'm scared of what Mohammed's attorneys will say to prolong this trial. As former CIA Director George Tenet wrote in his book, "At the Center of the Storm," when CIA officials first interrogated Mohammed in 2003, he defiantly told them, "I'll talk to you guys after I get to New York and see my lawyer." Now, thanks to Holder, Mohammed is about to say hello to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York -- where undoubtedly, he'll have more than one lawyer.

I'm scared of what President Obama said to NBC's Chuck Todd last week -- that those bothered with the change of venue for Mohammed won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." In pronouncing the verdict and punishment before the trial, Obama has handed civil libertarians ammunition.

I'm scared by what Holder said in response to this question by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "Can you give me a case in U.S. history where an enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?" Holder said he'd "have to look at that," after which Graham answered that there is no such case.

I'm scared that, according to the New York Times, Justice Department officials have said that even if "Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a 'combatant'" under the laws of war. It's clear the Justice Department hasn't thought this through.

I'm scared at what the next legal Dream Team will try to get others to say to deflect attention from the murder of 2,973 individuals. "Are we going to allow discovery of classified information so that we can get a fair trial?" asked John Eastman, law school dean at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Are we going to depose past Bush Department of Justice and Pentagon officials?

Eastman fears a scenario in which, "It's not so much Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who's on trial, but the Bush administration." (Eastman believes Congress should pass a bill "to withdraw jurisdiction from the civilian courts for enemy combatants." Good idea.)

I'm scared at what the international and self-styled human-rights communities might say to undermine the credibility of a trial that in any way falls short of perfection.

Today, everyone knows that KSM is guilty. But in the age of the Internet, the guiltiest perpetrator can be modeled as a victim.

In 2001, a Scottish court found Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi guilty for the 1988 Pan 103 Lockerbie bombings that left 270 dead. Al-Megrahi was convicted under a unanimous verdict passed by three Scottish (not American) judges (not jurors) based in The Netherlands. The (barbaric American) death penalty was off the table and the other defendant was acquitted. The Scottish justice minister recently issued a "compassionate" release for al-Megrahi. Still, the likes of Noam Chomsky argue it was an unfair trial, and have called for a U.N. inquiry.

Check out Slobodan Milosevic on the Internet. The former Serbian leader died while on trial for torture, murder and genocide at the U.N. International Criminal Court/Yugoslavia in The Hague. Serving as his own attorney, Slobo managed to prolong a trial that was supposed to last 14 months for a grueling four years -- and then it only ended because he died of a heart attack.

What thanks did the ICC get for accommodating Milosevic's delaying antics? Scurrilous rumors that it was responsible for his death.

So I'm not scared about what Mohammed might say about jihad in court. I'm scared about what he did -- and what a judge might say if he wants to serve as his own attorney.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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