The Coming Jihadi Trial Disaster

Forget the media chin-stroking and head-scratching. The intentions behind the administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his sideboys in Manhattan could not be clearer. Simply put, Obama wishes to Mirandize the entire murderous crew.

I'm using that term as shorthand for the liberal tendency -- not to say "compulsion" -- to treat all underdogs as victims, no matter the circumstances. In the liberal worldview, criminals are the ultimate underdogs, the romantic rebels with all the power of society ranged against them. The liberal role in this regard is to help even the odds, to protect and nurture the criminal so that his more "worthwhile" aspects -- whatever those might be -- aren't simply snuffed out by a vengeful society. This paradigm has governed the treatment of criminals since at least the 1950s.

By redefining Islamist terrorists as "criminals," liberals have automatically retrofitted them with "victim" status, endowing them with all the rights and privileges granted to American street hoodlums. If the record is any indication, this is going to end far worse than anyone can foresee.

Criminal justice reform was a major pillar of liberal utopianism during the postwar period. American liberals wanted to "humanize" the treatment of criminals under the impression that this would in and of itself end crime. As in so much else involving the liberal program, criminal justice reform was a wish-fulfillment daydream carried out without adequate research or foresight. (I devote a chapter to the topic in my upcoming book, Death by Liberalism.)

These reforms amounted to loosening all legal and social restrictions on criminals and lawless behavior. "Sentencing reform" cut sentences to little or nothing. "Rehabilitation," which usually took the form of a few hours spent with a harried social worker, replaced punishment. In the late '50s, the Supreme Court stepped in with a series of decisions heralded as the "procedural revolution," which overturned previous criminal justice procedure and subjected the entire system to minute control by the federal courts. In 1958, Mapp v. Ohio rewrote the rules regarding admissible evidence. Four years later, Gideon v. Wainwright (1962) guaranteed a defendant adequate legal representation. Escebedo v. Illinois (1964) guaranteed that a criminal had contact with his attorney, while Miranda v. Arizona (1965) required that police go through an elaborate and unvarying ritual pantomime to inform suspects of their rights every time they made an arrest. 

Some of these decisions were justified, even overdue -- Gideon, for instance. But coming all at once, with no preparation, guidance, or warning, they acted as a sledgehammer to the justice system, resulting in a confused court system, a demoralized police force, and an increasingly frightened populace. From the criminal point of view, they promised unlimited get-out-of-jail-free cards, free legal representation, and a sentence that at worst involved a few encounters with a tired parole officer.

The end result was exactly what any sane individual would have predicted. Beginning in 1964 (not coincidentally, the year of Escebedo), crime exploded. Major crimes jumped for the first time in five years. By the end of the decade, they had more than doubled. They continued soaring each year thereafter, and by the mid-'70s, they had increased by up to 400%. Rates dropped slightly in the early '80s before roaring back mid-decade, fueled by crack and the drug trade, finally topping even the incredible levels of the '70s.

This long witch's sabbath did not begin to abate until the early '90s, when New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and police chief William Bratton adapted George Keller's and James Q. Wilson's "Broken Windows" thesis -- coming down hard on such crimes as squeegeeing, jaywalking, and graffiti on the premise that creating an impression of public order leads to more public order. Broken Windows has brought down crime wherever it has been applied. Where it has not been applied, as in towns like Detroit and Newark, crime continues as rampant as ever. (It's no coincidence, by the way, that Giuliani has been the most vocal critic of the administration's jihadi maneuver.)

The cost of the great crime explosion is impossible to calculate. There is scarcely a single individual, and not a single family, unharmed by it in some fashion during the thirty years in which it raged. In my own case, I can recall an old man strangled to death in the first-floor apartment of my building (a murder for which I was questioned); a girlfriend raped while waiting for a ride on a Manhattan street corner; a man's face half carved off in a street brawl, breaking up an attempted invasion of a woman's apartment; and witnessing, from a moving car on an expressway, what could have been nothing else but a man being stabbed to death on a Lower East Side street. These crimes all occurred in a seven-year period between 1975 and 1982. This record is in no way unusual for people of my generation.

As for the numbers, the people murdered amount to over a quarter of a million. My own calculations, admittedly untutored, put the total at 268,000. Regarding assaults, rapes, robberies, and lesser crimes, the statistics are literally incalculable.

It is this paradigm, with those results, that is being invoked in the case of the jihadis. Never let it be said that liberals ever learn a lesson, or fail to fumble the opportunity to apply one.

What can the administration's purpose be here? Far be it from me to gaze too deeply into the blazing furnace that comprises the messiah's intellect, but the simplest answer is that it makes things easy. It's a much simpler matter to transfer so many generic "criminals" from Gitmo to Yourtown, USA, as opposed to a detachment of theologically-crazed mass murderers. Similarly, when some of their number are acquitted, as will inevitably occur, it will cause much less uproar when they have to be released. Mirandizing the jihadis is a first step in gearing down the War on Terror so that Obama can afford to ignore it and instead concentrate his attention on more interesting tasks, such as wrecking the economy and turning the U.S. into an international laughingstock.

It's easy to see how the pattern will work itself out. As in most criminal cases over the past thirty years -- OJ or Phil Spector can serve as illustrations -- the heart of the case will be buried under paper and legalisms. Much will be made of the discomfort Khalid suffered during his "torture" sessions -- the Couric-Moore-Olbermann axis will carry the ball here. Proceedings will drag on interminably, featuring numbing detail and endless repetition, contradictions, open fraud, and bogus controversy. By the end, a bewildered America will have tuned out, unwilling to hear any more. Many will have bought into various conspiracy theories and controversies cooked up by the attorneys and the media. Once the jihadi-as-victim portrait is complete, the "defendants" will be receiving full public support from the ultraviolet elements of the American left, including fundraising, demos, and "monkeywrenching." The verdict, whatever it is, will come obscured by a fog of trivia, and the entire exercise will climax in a whimper.

But that isn't how it will end. Because whatever they may think, the chain of events is not under the control of Obama and his people. As I have pointed out previously, their activities have served to open a door that reveals only darkness. Out of that darkness will come something to blow away all the daydreams, all the games, all the bogus little ideals and rituals. We are being made to look weak, childish, and silly in the eyes of the barbarians. There is a price for that, and that price will be paid, as it was paid by the millions of victims of the great crime explosion. History possesses its own dynamic, and it will not be denied. Eventually, even the liberals will have to learn that.