Many people have been asking the same question over the last year: “Is there a point where Americans will no longer accept terrorism-based scaremongering tactics?”
The answer has arrived: “Yes…and that time is now.”
Recently, there has been considerable news coverage of two stories. Two stories, that actually represent the very same issue:
1 - Attorney General Holder’s announcement that the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks would be tried in a federal court in New York.
2 - The announcement that a prison in Thompson, Illinois might be used to house Guantanamo Bay’s detainees.
Let’s start by taking a look at each of these issues independently:
New York Terror Trial:
One can easily predict the response to BOTH these items from the conservative camp. Conservative pundits and politicians have made the standard “not-in-my-backyard” argument, asking their viewers and supporters, “Do you really want these terrorists brought to the U.S.?”
- Former New York Mayor Giuliani proclaimed that the wounds in New York are still too fresh for the city to withstand the “psychic pain” of a locally held trial. News flash, Mr. Giuliani…you can’t one minute tell us how strong New Yorkers are, and then tell us the next minute that they are “too fragile” to endure trials of the terrorists who attacked them. The former is true: New Yorkers have shown themselves to be remarkably resilient, and there are few psychologists who WOULDN’T agree that a trial would be a further step in the healing process. When people are attacked, it is of fundamental benefit to be able to “face” their assailants, and to see the assailants brought to justice. Side note: Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) also opposes the trial, calling it “unprecedented” and “indefensible“…strangely, both Sessions and Guiliani had no problem eight years ago with Zacarias Moussaoui (the so-called 20th hijacker) being tried in the U.S.
- Former Attorney General Ashcroft says that a trial in a civilian court, rather than a military commission, would be too “transparent.” Too transparent? Is there such a thing when it comes to the American government and our national ideals? No. The absence of transparency brought us unjust investigation methods, unjust arrests, unjust detentions, and unjust treatment of prisoners. There is only one way to get that particular train back on the tracks, and that is to apply the two hundred year-old, Constitutionally mandated, Due Process of Law. That means courts…it means evidence…and it means a jury gets to weigh that evidence and determine guilt or innocence. Period.
- Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that all we need to do…is to remember what happened in the O.J. Simpson trial and ask ourselves, “Do we really want that to happen again.” Really? Is this perhaps the most inane thing we have ever heard from Chuck Grassley? If anything hindered the O.J. trial…it was the fact that he is, to some, a beloved football/movie celebrity. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters? Does Grassley really think that a jury is going to wrongly acquit them because they are “esteemed celebrities?“
- Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) told Holder that since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has asked to confess his guilt to a military commission and be executed…that is what we should do. AG Holder rightly pointed out to Kyl: we aren’t going to do what the TERRORIST wants to do…we are going to follow the American legal process.
- Karl Rove, Liz Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Kristol tried desperately to mobilize an angry mob to appear the day of the hearings, where Eric Holder would be explaining his decision to a Senate committee. The effect of their scare tactics, utilizing the full force of the airwaves and the internet? Crickets…
It’s really quite simple: These men participated in murdering thousands of people in New York. We have an established process for handling this. We are very proud of our process for handling this. The absolute dedication to the application of the Due Process of Law is one thing that is truly American, and encompasses all aspects in our belief in fairness, justice…and the necessity for fairness and justice being decided BY THE PEOPLE. In the New York federal court…the defendants will appear, and be represented by counsel. The prosecutor, will represent the PEOPLE. The jury, will represent the JUDGMENT OF THE PEOPLE. What’s more…the process itself validates and establishes WHO WE ARE as a people each time it is successfully conducted, and also serves as a point of closure and healing for victims. Much more so than some shadowy, closed, military tribunal down in Cuba.
Relocation of Gitmo Prisoners to Thompson, Illinois:
Thompson, Illinois has a prison. An expensive, new…and EMPTY supermax facility. Built during the boom times…when bust times came, it was not practical to staff the prison, so only the minimum security section is used, and for only a small number of prisoners. The governor of Illinois loves the idea of the prison’s super-maximum section being used to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The state’s two senators also strongly support the idea. The citizens of Thompson, a city experiencing very hard economic times, love the 3000 jobs and over a billion dollars that the opening of the super-maximum prison would create. So what could possibly be the problem?
- Illinois Republican Representative Mark Kirk has been holding press conferences and circulating calls for support…saying that bringing the detainees to Illinois would make Illinois and its landmarks the new number one target for terrorists, specifically the Sears Tower, as it is America’s tallest building. Kirk also warns that, if the Board of Corrections has authority over these prisoners, they will receive visitors…and he says that people would then have to be afraid of terrorists flying through O’Hare airport to come see their incarcerated friends. Ummm…Kirk? The Defense Department would be buying the prison FROM the Board of Corrections…and has already said it would not allow the detainees any visitors. Try doing a little bit of research first, before diving headlong into scare tactics…
- Illinois Republican Don Manzullo, who is actually SUPPOSED to be representing the good people of Thompson (who, again, want the prison to open), warns that the terrorists will be brought here and then released into the Illinois community.
Editorial boards across the country immediately criticized this use of fearmongering, and set about stating the easy counter-arguments to the GOP representatives’ claims. One of the best columns, by Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, makes some of the clearest points: Here’s his column. I’ll summarize, thusly: First of all, there are already Al Qaeda terrorists being held in Illinois…27 of them…it hasn’t caused Al Qaeda to “zero in” on Illinois yet, so what’s 200 more? Secondly, history proves that trying to avoid doing anything to provoke “agents of evil”…doesn’t really work (it’s called “appeasement” and you Republicans claim to be against it). Third, being home to the tallest building in the U.S., doesn’t really mean anything…when terrorists have shown interest in military bases, trains and subways, shopping malls, government buildings, and a multitude of other targets. But it turns out, the columnists were not the only people who thought the senseless fearmongering had gone too far; Some Republicans and conservatives are fed up with it as well:
- A statement was released by the Constitution Project, David Keene, founder of American Conservative Union, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and former representative and presidential candidate Bob Barr…saying that the housing of Gitmo detainees in Thompson, Illinois…”makes good sense.“ They didn’t stop there, and went as far as to say, “The scaremongering about these issues should stop…[there is] absolutely no reason to fear that prisoners will escape or be released into their communities.“ You can read the rest of the statement here.
- Illinois Republican Representative Jim Sacia was even more direct, saying that legislators (including his GOP brethren) who oppose the measure to move the detainees to Thompson…are “idiots.” Sacia said, “My thinking on this is extremely positive. If we lose this opportunity. All I can think of is we literally are idiots. I mean that sincerely…I understand I’m on different pages of music with others in my party. First of all this should not be a partisan issue in any way. If President Obama brings the detainees on U.S. soil and we sit here with a brand new state-of-the-art, max security prison, sitting vacant for the last eight years, and pass on an opportunity to sell it to the federal government, which we would fill it with 1,500 regular prisoners and 800 detainees, what is the problem? The building was designed to do that.“
So, perhaps that’s “it.” Perhaps Americans, even conservative Americans, are not willing to accept arguments the consist of nothing more than “If we do [insert action here] the terrorists will kill you.“ Perhaps Americans are no longer willing to set aside Constitutional rights and the guarantee of Due Process…just in the sake of “perceived safety.” Perhaps Americans think jobs and revenue are more important right now than slippery slope arguments regarding what the terrorists “might” do. And perhaps…just maybe…because Americans are no longer willing to be scared into supporting GOP positions…the GOP is realizing that they have to make a better argument. Just perhaps…