After the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, the police found amid the belongings of one of the perpetrators a list of the unindicted co-conspirators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York. The list had been submitted to the lawyers for the defendant, Sheik Abdel Rahman, and signed by Mary Jo White, the United States attorney. Under the rules of discovery in a criminal trial, the defendant had every right to the list. If you read through the names of the unindicted co-conspirators, one name will jump off the page and grab your attention. It is Number 95: Osama bin Laden.
If ever you needed a reason why terrorists have to be dealt with as foreign combatants, and not as criminals, it would have stared you in the face from the discovery process of Sheik Rahman's trial. But there was more. Rahman's activist attorney, Lynne Stewart, used her position to pass information from the cleric to his terrorist followers in Egypt. Stewart was later disbarred and sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison. Stewart is not an anomaly. Radical lawyers bent on using the legal system to further a political agenda will be falling all over themselves to represent the five alleged terrorists who will now stand trial in New York City. These lawyers will put American foreign policy on trial for the events of September 11, 2001. In putting September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators into the criminal justice system, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama have given the jihadists an incomparable stage for their propaganda.
What, then, possessed the Obama administration to ignore the obvious and to try these defendants in civil and not military proceedings? It most certainly is not to showcase the American justice system to the world. In a consummate act of legal stupidity, both the president and the attorney general have announced to the world that not only are the defendants guilty, but they are also going to be sentenced to death. If ever a national jury pool was tainted, this one is. In the Islamic world, no one remotely sympathetic to the defendants could ignore the hypocrisy of this conduct.
Obama is willing to compromise intelligence and provide the jihadists with a propaganda platform because he needs to placate the extremist elements of his political base. By taking these terrorists out of the military's hands and putting them into the criminal justice system, Obama is redefining terrorism as a criminal justice issue and not as irregular warfare. In this, Obama is beginning a process that will reshape the meaning of terrorism in consonance with the sympathetic, minimalist notions of leftist ideology.
Terrorist trials in the media capital of the world will be a magnet for the inspired publicity of jihadism. All terrorism finds its inspiration in violence as theater. The theater in the courtroom will be overshadowed by the inevitable carnage in the streets.
Terrorists have always wanted a lot of people watching, a lot of people asking, "Why?" From Abane Ramdane, who moved the Algerian insurrection against the French out of the anonymous Sahara and into the media-saturated streets of Algiers, to George Habash of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who blew up airplanes, terrorist leaders have thrived on the oxygen of publicity.
It is inconceivable that the jihadists will not find New York during the terrorist criminal trials a place for statements to be written in blood and punctuated by explosions.
Innocent blood will flow in the streets of New York because Obama chose to make a political statement rather than confront the reality of what terrorism is and how it works.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and former chairman of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.