For late-19th-century anarchists, terrorism was the "propaganda of the deed." And the most successful propaganda-by-deed in history was 9/11 -- not just the most destructive, but the most spectacular and telegenic.
And now its self-proclaimed architect, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, has been given by the Obama administration a civilian trial in New York. Just as the memory fades, 9/11 has been granted a second life -- and KSM, a second act: "9/11, The Director's Cut," narration by KSM.
Smell a bit of jealousy here? Krauthammer and Mohammed share a similar interest: instilling a profound dread of Islamic fundamentalism in the hearts of the American public -- the world public. Krauthammer's owned 9/11 for 8 years, and he'll have the final cut, not the damn director!
September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself ...
Right, the Bush bunch and all those right-wing bloggers never spoke on that day's behalf.
A decade later, the deed will be given voice. KSM has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable -- a civilian trial in the media capital of the world -- from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America.
We've seen terror trials. Judges have been pretty about not allowing the defendants to use them as a megaphone to promote their worldviews.
But setting aside reality for a moment -- and you have to in order to really soak in a good Krauthammer column -- I'm going to ask you to forget about politics and consider just what in the world might KSM say at that trial that has right-wingers cowering under their beds? Do you think he could -- gasp! -- accuse the U.S. of being craven imperialists? Of supporting Israeli "genocide" against the Palestinians? Might he dare suggest that we're waging a war on Islam? That we're trying to impose our decadent values on the rest of the world? My God, do you think he could accuse us of having some sort of interest in Middle East oil?!?
If KSM were permitted to utter these shocking allegations, would they come as a surprise to anyone? Is the danger here that nobody in the Muslim world has ever heard of such outlandish ideas before? Will ordinary Muslim men and women, hearing Mohammed's suggestion that America might be the Great Satan for the first time on some Al Jazeera broadcast suddenly drop whatever they're doing and strike out against the infidels?
I mean, seriously? If you're not already predisposed to al Qaeda's message (which one assumes is widely available), would you really give what Mohammed says during testimony a lot of credence (again, in the unlikely case they let him ramble)? Is he that articulate? Are we trying the scruffy dude who says he chopped off Daniel Pearl's head or Noam Chomsky here?
Whatever the risk, for Krauthammer it's just not worth it...
So why is Attorney General Eric Holder doing this? Ostensibly, to demonstrate to the world the superiority of our system, where the rule of law and the fair trial reign.
This is a really interesting construct. The rule of law is of course highly uneven around the world. But our allies in the West have had a string of successes breaking up terror rings and trying suspects without undermining their own laws. So this graph might more accurately be rendered thusly:
So why is Attorney General Eric Holder doing this? Ostensibly, to demonstrate to the world that our system is back up to international standards, after an era in which we kicked the rule of law in the groin like the damn Soviets at their worst.
Now here, as is often the case, Krauthammer distinguishes himself from the sweatiest right-wing bloggers in the dankest suburban basements by being at least half-right:
Really? What happens if KSM (and his co-defendants) "do not get convicted," asked Senate Judiciary Committee member Herb Kohl. "Failure is not an option," replied Holder. Not an option? Doesn't the presumption of innocence, er, presume that prosecutorial failure -- acquittal, hung jury -- is an option? By undermining that presumption, Holder is undermining the fairness of the trial, the demonstration of which is the alleged rationale for putting on this show in the first place.
Moreover, everyone knows that whatever the outcome of the trial, KSM will never walk free. He will spend the rest of his natural life in U.S. custody. Which makes the proceedings a farcical show trial from the very beginning.
That last bit is true, to a degree. And to his credit, Krauthammer rightly calls out Holder later in the column for hypocritically favoring military tribunals for some detainees but not others.
But there are farces and there are farces. Holder's farce is having a multi-tiered justice system -- hey'll try those that he knows they can convict in a real court, and others will get show-trials in a kangaroo court called a "military commission." But with Holder's farce, those who actually are tried in a real court will be able to get a real trial. The outcome is predisposed during the selection process.
This is much less clunky, and that little bit of nuance -- the idea that they can maybe get some propaganda value from at least appearing as though they're trying to conform to the rule of law (or doing it whenever possible if you want to be generous) -- is enough to get Krauthammer's panties in a bunch.
Anyway, as he nears the end of the column, Krauthammer, sadly, can't resist a little Keifer Sutherland 24 action ...
Apart from the fact that any such trial will be a security nightmare and a terror threat to New York -- what better propaganda-by-deed than blowing up the courtroom, making KSM a martyr and turning the judge, jury and spectators into fresh victims? -- it will endanger U.S. security. Civilian courts with broad rights of cross-examination and discovery give terrorists access to crucial information about intelligence sources and methods.
Yeah, we spend a gazillion dollars on intelligence services, law enforcement, homeland security and on and on so we can live in a modern state with a functional judiciary that has the capacity to handle the trials of even scary people.
Anyway, while I can see Krauthammer sharing a common interest with KSM in keeping us awake with the night terrors, by the end of the column this neocon extraordinaire seems to also, surprisingly, to share an interest in promoting al Qaeda and expanding the ranks of violent Islamic fundamentalists:
An absurdity: By the time Barack Obama came to office, KSM was ready to go before a military commission, plead guilty and be executed. It's Obama who blocked a process that would have yielded the swiftest and most certain justice. Indeed, the perfect justice. Whenever a jihadist volunteers for martyrdom, we should grant his wish.
Grant their wish? Who's side is The Hammer on? It's ironic: in his thirst for blood, he undermines our ability to extract vengeance on Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Because I can guarantee that KSM would be thrilled to die a martyr at the hands of the Americans -- preferably without all that crap we like to tell the world about "fair trials" and "human rights."
And of course the very worst punishment we could mete out would be to make KSM waste away in solitary confinement, being taunted by doughy American prison guards while watching as a great Islamic caliphate doesn't rise up to dominate the world and then finally wasting away and dying, forgotten, hopefully from some debilitating and painful malady.
But that would require -- oh, my -- endangering our children by warehousing these super-terrorists in one of those vulnerable super-max prisons somewhere in the U.S., and neocons like Krauthammer end up lacking the stomach to extract the revenge they so loudly claim to seek.