America on Trial – by Jacob Laksin


In the annals of poor political judgment, the Obama administration’s decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay-based terrorist detainees in a New York City federal court may yet rank as a blunder without peer in American history.

The administration’s announced motive is to prove that civilian courts can be trusted to dispense justice to America’s deadliest enemies. But in affording al-Qaeda alumnus Mohammed and his jihadist cohorts the constitutional privileges reserved for common criminals, the administration may have put America on trial and potentially endangered the country to score a political point against its predecessor.

Of Mohammed’s guilt there can be no doubt. By his own account, he had a hand in 31 terrorist plots, chief among them the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans a short distance from Mohammed’s expected trial site in southern Manhattan. In March 2007, the onetime al-Qaeda number three confessed that he helped Osama bin Laden organize, plan, and execute the 9/11 attacks. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” Mohammed recounted.

Other highlights of Mohammed’s terrorist handiwork include planning the 1993 World Trade Center attack; the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whom Mohammed boasted of personally beheading; the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings; planning attacks in Thailand, the Philippines and Israel; and planning a series of “second wave” terrorist attacks to be carried out in the aftermath of 9/11 on the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, as well as targets in Washington State. As Mohammed once put the obvious in his broken English, “For sure, I’m American enemies.”

Less certain is that the self-declared enemy of the United States will be held to account for his crimes. Some of the most incriminating evidence against Mohammed was obtained after he was subjected to waterboarding by the CIA. But that evidence will be inadmissible in a civilian trial. Moreover, defense lawyers will almost certainly attempt get the charges against Mohammed and his co-defendants dismissed on the grounds that they were “tortured,” however dubious that may be as a description of an interrogation technique conducted under conditions carefully monitored to avoid inflicting lasting physical injury.

Prosecutors would not be powerless against that strategy. Already, there are reports that a “clean team” of interrogators was called in to collect evidence on Mohammed that did not rely on under-duress confessions. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the trial could devolve into a referendum on American detention policies under the Bush administration rather than the mass murderers at its center.

There are other obstacles to the conviction that Attorney General Eric Holder has already promised. Because the trial is set to take place in the shadow of the World Trade Center, defense attorneys are likely to move for a change of venue. After all, they could claim, isn’t a fair trial impossible in a city still scarred by the 9/11 attacks? Even if it fails, the motion and other stalling tactics could drag on the trial for years.

No matter the outcome of the trial, the mere fact that it will be taking in a civilian court will be a victory of sorts of Mohammed. After being sequestered in Guantanamo Bay, he will be presented with a prominent soapbox to inveigh against America. That is precisely what happened with Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker,” who turned his trial, which began in 2002, into a shameful four-year spectacle. Railing against America at every turn, Moussaoui made a mockery of the legal proceedings, variously attempting to represent himself, to plead guilty, and to discredit the entire process. Now Mohammed will be able to repeat Moussaoui’s feat. “I am looking to be a martyr for a long time,” Mohammed has said. Having failed to achieve the desired result on the battlefield, he will get his chance in the courtroom.

The public nature of the trial is also likely to handicap American efforts against international Islamic terrorism. The transparency demanded by a criminal court will provide watching terrorists with a window into the state of American counterintelligence. The 1995 trial of the first World Trade Center bombing plotters, which Holder has cited as a model for trying Mohammed and others, actually offers a grim precedent. During the prosecution, Osama bin Laden learned that he had been named as a “co-conspirator” in the 1993 bombing. Time would pass before the United States officially placed bin Laden on its enemies list, but the trial had tipped him off about U.S. suspicions long before then.

The charade that the trial will likely become could have been avoided. Mohammed has already pleaded guilty in a military court at Guantanamo, where the system of military commissions, relying on a looser standard of evidence – there is no expectation that detainees must be read their Miranda rights and some classified evidence is admitted – is the ideal venue to adjudicate such cases. Military commissions provide detainees with due process without releasing classified intelligence and compromising counterterrorism efforts. Presumably, this is why the Obama administration has decided to keep the military commissions in place for other Guantanamo residents. Abandoning them in the case of Mohammed et al. is a major and thoroughly gratuitous gamble.

The lessons of the World Trade Center bombing are once again instructive. In his legal memoir Willful Blindness, Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who led the government’s case against bombing architect Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, points out that one of the mistakes the prosecution made was allowing bombing conspirator Ahmed Abdel Sattar to go free. Judging the evidence too weak for a conviction in a civilian court, McCarthy declined to prosecute Sattar. Thus spared, Sattar spent the next decade aiding and abetting the jailed Sheik Rahman as he directed his terrorist followers in Egypt. He was not apprehended until 2005. Will the Mohammed trial produce a new Ahmed Abdel Sattar?

Attorney General Holder seems confident that it will not. According to Holder, there is sufficient admissible evidence to convict the terrorists on trial and secure the death penalty. For the sake of American national security and, even more, for the families still grieving over loved ones lost in the worst ever attack on American soil, he had better be right.

  • Lary9

    I am appalled by all the hue and cry against the 9/11 conspirators at Gitmo being tried as civilian criminals in NYC and not in a military court. Did I.Q.s just drop overnight? This atrocious act against humanity was a war crime in their eyes but not a war crime in mine. [By the way, I've read all the books by Gabriel and Spencer and Phares]. Aside from the obvious like rejecting legal precedent and the rule of law, the worst thing we can do is co-sign their jihadist status by associating their crimes with a military trial. We should resolutely avoid anything that legitimates their Islamist world view by treating them as soldiers of any kind. This would greatly please al Qaeda’s minions worldwide. We must try them in a federal criminal court by U.S. District Attorneys. They are murderers, not covert partisans working in a wartime resistance. [Does anybody remember George W. Bush? He proposed the EXACT same process in a June 6, 2006 speech…bringing the detainees here and trying them in federal court!] I read your objections and I don't believe NYC would be put in harm's way anymore than it is already. As for the openness of a civilian trial, transparency is a judicial virtue. The Lady holding the scales of justice is blindfolded but the public ought never be. I remain unpersuaded of your views and believe them to be politically aligned. The right wing has become a monolith of boring predictability.

  • keithrage

    Will the jury have any muslims?

  • wss25

    Obama is on notice by the Va and NJ governor elections that the Dems will take the tank in 2010 unless he does something to discredit the Repubs.

    Think about a public trial leading to the conclusion that 911 WTC was done with explosives. How many Repubs would be elected in 2010?

  • Steve Chavez

    TREASON now used to “create” jobs!


    THE DEMS WERE ALL OVER THE NEWS YESTERDAY saying that if the terrorists are moved to new Illinois prison that it “will create 3000 jobs in an area of high unemployment.” DICK DURBAN, correctly named, is leading that charge.

    ONE MAN ON CNN YESTERDAY SAID “when this GENTLEMAN is moved to New York,” MEANING KSM.


    ON TRIAL HERE IS GEORGE BUSH AND DICK CHENEY! Obama and Holder will say: “It's their war, based on a lie, that was and is causing recruitment for real freedom fighters to protect their land from invaders, or the real terrorists! These Gentlemen were proven innocent which proves Bush and Cheney were picking boys off the streets and bringing them to Gitmo for their twisted and mindless logic. BUSH AND CHENEY SHOULD NOW BE PUT ON TRIAL FOR WAR CRIMES!!!”

  • Moonbat

    This is probably the first issue presented here that I'm conflicted on. “Transparency is a judicial virtue” AMEN!!! BOOLA BOOLA!!! Nothing would make me happier that for this trial to expose the truth behind the Patriot (barf) act, rendition, warrantless wiretaps, Halliburton/KBR/Blackwater/Ze… I could go on and on. In my heart, I am at least 1,000x more afraid of how the Federal government is turning on the American people (can you say MIAC report/SPLC reports?) than I am a terrorist attack.

  • mojobebop

    obama administration is complicit in a traitorous act.

  • mojobebop

    if there are muslims on this jury expect them to be acquitted.

  • mojobebop

    of course it's a war crime. how silly, & self serving can you be?

  • mojobebop

    they should take no prisoners on the battlefieled. that would solve the problem.

  • John L. Work

    Now retired from law enforcement, I spent my fair share of time in Courts of Law as a police detective and later as an investigator for a State Public Defender's Office.

    Someone's already posed the question here about the composition of the jury. The Constitution guarantees a trial by a jury of one's peers. If there are no Muslims selected to serve on the jury, KSM will have an excellent post-trial appeal for reversal of a conviction. If Muslims are selected to serve, I suggest they will have a difficult time discarding their inculcated Muslim beliefs and vote to convict one of their own who followed the highest callling of every Muslim in waging jihad. I forsee a hung jury.

    Either way, it's not a situation in which truth and justice will probably prevail.

    This criminal trial was a very bad idea, and I cannot help but think there must be another motivation for the Obama Adiminstration to bring KSM to New York for prosecution in a civilian criminal Court. I'm just not smart enough to figure it out yet.

  • josephwiess

    Last night on the radio, someone compared this to the McVeigh trial. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. There are vast differences between 9/11 and Oklahoma City. The main one being, that McVeigh was an American Citizen who committed a terrorist act, and once caught, was tried and convicted by his peers.
    The 9/11 terrorists peers would be other terrorists, or at the least muslims that wouldn't have the guts to stand up to them.

  • jackhampton

    A military tribunal is exactly the correct venue for these terrorist. The scheer stupidty of bringing this trash to our country is incredible. They will regret this decision for years to come and will more than likely result in another terrorist attack. The left wing is what it has always been a pridictable stooge for every America hater in the world. God help us because this moron administration will not.

  • Sassamon

    This is America on trial.
    Do not forget that Obama has made a worldwide tour
    pointing out our guilt.
    There is something deeply broken in this man.
    He does not deserve the office of the President.
    He does not love our country.
    He grew up in a house full of radicals and communists.
    He is not a fellow American.

  • teq

    There's one big question rolling around in my mind, namely, why wasn't the Bush administration able to bring KSM and his top cohorts to a military trial in the last eight years? Surely they could have been tried, convicted and “sent to their reward” long before the 2008 election. What was the hold-up when the evidence was so overwhelming? There's no doubt in my mind that Bam is doing this because of international pressure. In the eyes of the world the terrorists should be treated either as common criminals OR as POWs OR as war criminals and treated accordingly, but not left in legal limbo to rot. Just as Bam bowed to the Saudi king, and recently to the Japanese emperor, he is now bowing to international pressure. But if Bush and Cheney had been more organized they could have made sure that the top terrorists were sent to Allah long before the Dumb-ass-crats could come to power and pull a stunt like this.
    My main problem with the Bush government was their disorganization. I know they were faced with enormous challenges after 9/11, biggest of which was liberal sabotage, but as Harry Truman said, the buck stops with the president. I would like to know why KSM and his pals were not disposed of earlier when the evidence against them was more than sufficient. (If anyone knows the reason, please share.)

  • USMCSniper

    This is a show trial that expose the people of America to four or more years of jihadist propaganda from the defendants. These jihadists are going to do everything they can to disrupt the trial and make it a circus” for their radical religious ideology,.

  • David

    Not hard to tell who's side Obama is on…….he hates america, he's always appoligizinging for us. All we do is run arount the world helping everyother country.
    Yes we have stuck our nooses in place too but what counrty does more for other countries even if thay hate us……
    America get taken advantage of……especially by these Islamic countries always crying
    poor me
    God Bless America

  • cochise1

    Barack Obama is the “Manchurian Candidate”, selected and groomed to destroy the United States. This is the only possible explanation for his acts. In a few years he will be the most hated man in the country.

  • cochise1

    Barack Obama is the “Manchurian Candidate”, groomed and selected to destroy this country. This is now the only explanation that makes sense. In a few years he will be the most hated man in the United States (if we are still a country).

  • sflbib

    If you are so big on the law, where [legally] does civil crime end and unlawful combat begin? If you are so big on the law, what about the International Law of Armed Conflict? According to the LOAC, individuals are not permitted to wage war; only nations can wage war. With that in mind, here… is a legal argument that explains why the terrorists should be tried by military courts.

    “The article then notes that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, as unlawful combatants, are subject to trial by U.S. military commissions for their acts of unlawful belligerency or other violations of LOAC and international humanitarian law. It expounds that, when an opposing force detains an unlawful combatant in time of armed conflict, the unlawful combatant's right to legal counsel or other representation only arises if criminal charges are brought against the unlawful combatant. The article illustrates the security measures, evidence procedures, and the many executive due process protections afforded to detainees subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. military commissions. The article states that, if tried and convicted in a U.S. military commission, a detainee may be required to serve the adjudged sentence, such as punitive confinement.”

    What you want is for the civilian courts to do its usual dance then find an excuse to let him go, just like Angela Davis, which is to say to hand the U.S. a defeat.

  • sflbib

    It did. Last December, KSM and his co-defendants requested to plead guilty. Here are the charges against them:

    Conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, terrorism and providing material support for terrorism

    Hijacking or hazarding a vessel (except Mustafa al-Hawsawi)


    Note that the charges are for violations of the Law of War, which was, ironically, developed to minimize civilian deaths and destruction of non-war-related property.

  • trickyblain

    What conclusions can we bring from Laskin's piece? He has no faith in the American judicial system, which is as much a part of the brilliance of the US system as the Constitution. He prefers loose evidence standards of dictatorial military trials. He considers the al qaeda scum as solders waging a war, not a group of mass-murdering fanatics.

    Nidal Hasan was a member of the military who committed murder against other members of the military at a military installation. Thus, he will be tried by the US military. Khalid cowardly sat behind the scenes and planned the mass-murder against CIVILIANS. How is he any different than Charles Mansion with a greater degree of “success”? He was not a solder — but Laskin wants to give him, as well as all of his detestable cohorts, the honor of being one.

    If the evidence is as strong as Laskin states — and I believe it is — Khalid will see a lethal injection bed either way. Do we want him to go down in Middle-Eastern record as a military hero or merely a criminal sentenced to death in court?

  • Robert Bernier

    Every American should see this video !

    The ambition of Islam to conquer the world.
    For centuries Islam of the militants have been on the march to conquer the world. We did not notice because we chose not to notice. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in
    1920 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt and was in deep confrontation with the Egyptian government. The current goals for Islam to achieve global domination for a Muslim Caliphate: a world under strict Islamic “Sharia” law, pulling Muslims back to the 7th Century.

    Consult :

  • guest

    You know what would be really funny? KSM is sentenced to death in a civilian trial. Okay I got that.

    But who does the lethal injection?

    I say let the CIA do it, and give him something that paralyzes him but keeps him awake. Then something to keep him in immense pain, for let's say 9 months, 1 day, and 1 hour. Then put him in one of those isolation booths with the water, and let his brain atrophy so we know 100% he can't go back to his evil ways. Then give him to Delta force and use his terror tactics back on Osama.

    How poetic.

  • LindaRivera

    In Britain, Sheikh Bakri: “We will use your democracy to destroy your democracy.”

  • LindaRivera

    PA Muslims Celebrate Murder of 3,000 Innocents 9/11

    World Trade Center Horrors: The Jumpers
    Thousands of Palestin
    ians again celebrate attacks, videotape suppressed
    By Ellis Shuman and israelinsider staff September 16, 2001

    On Friday and Saturday, thousands of Palestinians again paraded through cities in the West Bank and Gaza, celebrating the attacks on the United States.
    “Jubilant Palestinians took to the streets of refugee camps of Lebanon and the West Bank, waving Palestinian flags and distributing sweets to celebrate the attacks.

    “Palestinian policemen celebrating and shooting into the air, in addition to civilians dancing,”
    …Arab students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem held a party Tuesday night celebrating the attacks and giving out candy to participants.

  • LindaRivera

    Sorry, I just discovered the video on the 9/11 jumpers has been removed. It was an outstanding and heartbreaking video. I don't know why they would remove it.

  • Lary9

    No comment.

  • Lary9

    I am unaware of this so-called International Law of Armed Conflict.
    Regardless, I still believe the essential act of the 9/11 terrorists was
    homicide and shouldn't be elevated to status of a military action. I believe
    that is exactly what al Qaeda wants the world to believe as well. It serves
    their agenda. Don't you see that? How do you answer that? Anyhow, I suppose
    I am unable to be completely objective about this owing to my background in
    the armed forces of our nation during the Vietnam era. Have a good
    Thanksgiving. Lary9

  • Lary9

    I disagree. Moreover, I can get really silly especially when I'm playing
    Medal of Honor [PS3] with my kids and g-kids. As to the “self-serving” part,
    I'm used to cafeteria style meals and the same goes for my ideas…all
    self-served with fries.

  • Rob_W

    This trial will make Watergate look like a walk in the park.

    If the unceasing – nauseatingly repetitious broadcasts all thru the '70s about everything from secret tapes, special prosecutors, impeachment threats, deep throat and all kinds of national morbid introspection didn't depress an entire generation of Americans –

    just what do you think will happen with this generation of Americans – during the worst financial crisis in 70 years – millions jobless – many homeless – and now Dr. Obama is going to foist this monstrosity and circus in a lower Manhattan courthouse on the already bleary-eyed American public ?

    Dr. Obama certainly doesn't seem to be able to take the temperature of the patient this time around. If he did – he's see we're half dead already.

    Obama – what an idiot.


  • Rob_W

    Yes, and Amen !

  • Lary9

    Has anyone here actually been in a foreign war? Been in the line of fire? Applied the rules of engagement on the fly? How about heard a 7.62mm round from an AK-47 assault rifle whiz by your ear? I've found that the loudest, most rude critics of command-under-fire are the armchair soldiers who never served.. But then… I could be wrong.

  • Rob_W

    And if the guaranteed to be nauseating coverage soon to be provided by the likes of NPR won't drive you nuts… just imagine what it will be like when they run their 500th report on the current state of affairs in the trial. For more – here's Robert Segal.


  • mojobebop

    another tactic is to criticise those who comment in favor of the war by saying, 'have u ever been in a war'. it's similar to what they say when a policeman has been abusive, 'who do you call when you need help'.
    the fact is that america for now is still free, and we have a right to have an opinion.

  • hehadahat

    Two articles in yesterday's newspaper.

    Talking about the Fort hood masacre, Obama said:
    We must “resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into political theater”. Those wod died deserve justice not political stagecraft.

    Any yet he has no such concern for the 3000 people who died on 911.
    Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times said “When ….the self described mastermind of 9/11 stands trial, it will be a soapbox for him and “It will be a chance to indict the entire system.

    These two articles indicated to me that President Barrock H. Obama and his administration doesn't want is:
    Having the Terrorists seen as following Islam's teaching.

    Seeing the terrorists as victums of the Bush Administration – and of western evil in general – is something they do want.

  • tarleton

    THis photograph is a PERFECT image of the MEDIEVEL MAN….just perfect
    If you could travel back 900 years …..this is exactly what you would see….iconic !!
    It's all here ….the fanaticism , ignorance ,biggotry ,paranoia….intoxicated on religion

    This should be used as an icon for the war against radical Islam…..PERFECT
    We are at war with fanatics from the middle ages , who are using our very own weapons and technology against us….just wait until they get their hands on nuclear weapons……ALLAHUA AKBAR

  • etyetydfghfghdfg

    in NY court???????????????? NY court?????
    Case solved!!!!:
    no Miranda rights were read to them! DISCHARGED!!!!

    First, we were a nation of idiots. NOW we are a nation of suicidal idiots. Thank you, Obumble.

  • Sassamon

    Geert Wilders, “Warning to America”.
    Geert Wilders is a hero.

  • frank002

    Lary9, you remind me of another useful idiot, John “I went to VietNam” Kerry. These animals killed 3000 of our countrymen. Did you read this? OUR countrymen. These people went to work one day and never came home because of these “soldiers of Allah” who would love to chop your veteran's head off. I would not send them to New York for a trial. I would send them to Orlando, Florida, where I would promptly drop them in the shark tank in Sea World. By the way, Obama is the best unqualified, Muslim, Kenyan-born president we have ever had.

  • Carterthewriter

    When our own government is anti-American, something must be done. There was a time that once an election was over, we came together. Now, even the media is fractured.

  • LucyQ

    I don't share Jacob Laksin's fear of democratic justice in America. Terrorists like to hide in the dark. They don't seek the light of day and certainly not the spotlight. I strongly doubt the American people will want to become terrorists or sympathize with them.

    I think Laksin thinks the American people are stupid and/or democracy is stupid. I have absolutely no fear of allowing a terrorist to defend himself in an American court.

    And thank goodness that the Jews did not fear having the Nazi's tried in a democratic, global court that had every microphone in the world and radio too, along with ample film and TV that has documented the utter terror of the Nazis forever and a day…….and that was six million innocent men, women and children being slaughtered.

    Since when are Americans afraid of the American system of justice? Would they prefer the sharia style of justice?

  • LucyQ

    I agree with your excellent post.

  • centrestage70

    Thanks for the update. Keep it up.

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  • WestWright

    Lary9, 'loudest, most rude critics' seems to be your calling card DimBot!
    WTH do you think you are, tell us some lies about your great exploits in battle.
    Lary9 is just another POS that has nothing to offer, GTH Dimbot!

  • peterlubrano

    The Obama administration is hell bent on giving our enemies an edge by trying the 5 terrorists as criminal in a civiilian court aand granting them constitutional rights.
    There is one way to try these terrorists and Obama has chosen to bypass the military tribunal. That decision was nothing more than a calculated political move that was blessed by the radical left who have a political ax to grind which is the defeat of America in the international arena and with that the defeat of the Bush administration by bringing those officicals to justice, do you see that?

  • Lary9

    I never said anything like that. Read it again. I've been taking care of
    returnees for almost 10 years.

  • Lary9

    OK. Man, I'm taking a lot of hits on this! Let me briefly reiterate. They
    may want to view it as an act of war (Jihad) but I reject their Holy
    War definition and I think it wise to not allow them to bully us into such a
    definition. I am not a defense advocate for these monstrous conspirators. I
    would gladly shoot them myself as a lawfully appointed executioner. I simply
    prefer not to validate their self-defining status as Allah's warriors
    instead of the group of homicidal thugs they are.
    Understand that I have a rationale for my position and it's not a soft or PC

  • mojobebop

    what the terrorists want is a 4 year long circus to unleash their propaganda, and get new converts. that is what they will get. everyone has an opinion but in this matter the truth is clear. they should be tried by the military. i can't believe what a bunch of assholes inhabit this country now. people really need to get real on this. i pray the next attack won't happen here in nyc. some other cities turn. hopefully one where the majority support nonsense like this. enough with this bs.

  • Lary9

    mojo~ You are in the majority on this. Last poll I heard said 76% of those
    surveyed favored the military venue. I'm surprised. I didn't think support
    for the public trial in a federal district court would be so light. It's
    possible that this survey's results are influenced by strong emotions that
    may cloud clear thought on the matter.

  • mojobebop

    well no, i believe it is so incredibly obvious that terrorists need to be tried in military courts. to do otherwise is absolutely insane and works against the common good of the usa.
    those who support constitutional rights for military combatants
    do so in some illogical premise. they do not belong to an organized army, therefore the geneva conventions do not apply. they should never receive constitutional rights afforded to american citizens. there is absolutely no positive outcome in this except for the obama administration and the far left who seeks to embarass the bush administration. it will take at least 4 years, giving them a platform for propaganda. costint nyc untold millions of dollars, putting nyc at risk. it is sheer lunacy. those who support it are devoid of the ability for higher thought process in this matter.

  • Lary9

    Actually I was watching a program about the difference between UCMJ court
    rules vs. federal court and there are only a few differences according to
    this retired JAG colonel.