So I read Jack Kelly's column yesterday, and I think to myself, he's sort of got a point, but he really does miss the big picture, doesn't he. On the sort of got a point, if a public trial of (and I am going to mess up this name) Khalid Sheik Mohammed does reveal classified intelligence of our on going pursuit of terrorists, that would be a bad thing. Mind you, that bad thing is weighed against our having an open trial of one the major people in the 9/11 plot, the most major one we have since we couldn’t get Osama bin Laden. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Of course, revealing the intelligence would only be bad in the sense of tipping our hand to a criminal organization. After all, what sort of threat is Al Qaeda? Is it a threat to our very existence? It is a terrorist organization, not a foreign state. They have committed horrible acts, yet it seems difficult to say we are at war with them. And in fact the Bush administration really kind of exploited that point, saying the people we captured had neither the rights afforded prisoners of war nor the rights we extend to criminals. There is the messy issue of extending US rights to foreign nationals, which I don’t have the time to discuss in full. Let me just say that I think the only reason not to extend rights to prisoners is if those prisoners will exploit those right to do great harm to the US. Which brings us back to the question of what sort of threat Al Qaeda is.
There was recently a piece in an English newspaper about how when American’s protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamic radicals reconsidered their radicalism. If American citizens believed in American principles, and acted accordingly, maybe hurting the US was not such a good idea (Glenn Greenwald addressed this). Which brings me back to the public trial. Kelly wants to tell us that Obama’s motivation for having the trial is to punish George Bush, to put him in a bad light. I can understand that statement, but I think that Obama’s real motivation is to bring some law and order into the picture. I’m not saying that Obama is doing this to make Islamic radicals reconsider, although I sure he will not mind if they do. I think Obama wants the trials for the same reasons that make the radicals reconsider, to adhere to American principles.
Kelly occasionally goes on about how Obama doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism. I am not sure what that means exactly, I think Kelly and other conservatives think it means we can throw our weight around (the world), I guess because we are “good guys” or maybe just the biggest kid on the block (or both). But what makes us the good guys is that we do try to protect rights and be fair. This public trial is a way to do both.
Our history is full of instances where we were less than fair, and often pretty bad. We have had no gas chambers, but we did have slavery, internment camps, at least one instance of a government run medical experiment on African Americans (involving I believe syphilis). We have to admit those mistakes, especially if we want to claim to advocate for democracy, freedom and rights of people. We have been drifting, at least, away from those ideas (even as we loudly push them on others), and a public trial will be a good symbol of our adherence to them. If it makes George Bush look bad, well, he did that to himself.