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Abraham: All Accused Terrorists Should Be Tried in Federal Courts

The Obama administration’s decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court, as opposed to a military tribunal, has ignited a firestorm of controversy, though it is hard to imagine why. After all, should the forum for his conviction matter where, as has been so frequently stated, the outcome of such a trial would hardly seem in doubt. We could hardly imagine KSM missing an opportunity to take credit for the attacks, given his past performances. Moreover, would it really matter where the evidence against him is said to measure in mountains rather than molehills?No, the controversy seems to be about something different, something deeper — less focused on the certainty of a conviction and more deeply rooted in the emotional, nearly visceral, seemingly instinctive repulsion at the idea that a person singularly intent on destroying this nation, its people and its democratic institutions should be afforded the very protections that are the target of his vicious attacks and the object of his contempt. Simply put, is a mass murderer at war with this nation entitled to the constitutional rights of the citizens he has committed every fiber of his being to destroying? Can we not draw a line beyond which a person forfeits the protection of a Constitution that he would as casually trample asunder as the soil under his feet?This conflict is honest and heartfelt, and yet it misses the point. This nation should try KSM and the other accused 9/11 terrorists in federal court not only because of what they are accused of having done but in spite of those charges.As a presidential adviser on anti-terrorism once said, “Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them.”That anti-terrorism expert was not an adviser to Barack Obama, but rather to Ronald Reagan. President Reagan presided at a time when one of the greatest threats to this nation’s security was not a fight against terrorists but a global struggle between East and West, a protracted battle of nations and proxies that was rapidly approaching a moment of cataclysmic change not imagined during a period of decades simply referred to as the Cold War era.Though the threats against this nation then are seemingly as different as night and day when compared to those faced today, the threats share a common target — the essence of what lies at the core of this nation’s identity — a system of justice grounded in the idea that individual rights transcend the transient interests of its leaders. We, unashamed, unreservedly, are a free people governed by consent.

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