Editor’s Note: Matthew Waxman is Associate Professor at Columbia Law School, and he is also a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. The following piece is his First Take, reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.
By Matthew Waxman, CFR.org
On Wednesday, the Pentagon authorized a military commission trial at Guantanamo for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of orchestrating the September 11 attacks. The charges include murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and civilian objects, hijacking aircraft, and terrorism. If convicted, the five suspects could face the death penalty.The headlines about this may sound very familiar. Back in 2008,the Bush administration had charged them in a military commission, but the Obama administration suspended the case upon coming into office. The Obama administration then planned to bring the case to a civilian federal court in New York, but congressional and local opposition forced it to shelve those plans.
This time the trial is likely to go forward, though it is difficult to predict what sort of trial it will be: Will KSM and his co-defendants plead guilty and seek to be executed as martyrs, or will they contest the charges? Regardless, it seems clear that in the court of world opinion, it will be the military commissions system and U.S. detention and interrogation practices that are on trial too.
The current military commissions system is much more robust and procedurally fair than the original system established by an early Bush administration executive order. Its rules, procedures and defendant protections have been improved significantly as a result of executive branch revisions, Supreme Court rulings, and congressional legislation. The current system now includes reforms to the evidentiary rules, for example, that the Obama administration proposed to and worked out with Congress early in 2009, and the military commission prosecutor's office has been working to make the system more transparent. Experience to date also shows that these are not at all the kangaroo courts some critics make them out to be.
However, a minimum level of public legitimacy at home and abroad is required for military commissions to be effective–not just legally effective in the short-term, but strategically effective in providing a viable counterterrorism tool while sustaining international counterterrorism cooperation. The Obama administration will therefore need to defend the system more persuasively and forcefully than it has.
While often briefly noting their appropriateness in some cases, senior Obama officials do not make the case for military commissions with the same vigor they employ, for instance, in defending other counterterrorism tools such as targeted killing. Indeed, the administration has been quite explicit in saying that its general preference is to use civilian criminal trials for Guantanamo detainees (an option that Congress has worked to block) rather than military commissions, and it has not explained clearly or consistently how it chooses between them or between prosecution and detention without any trial at all. The Obama administration's ambivalence about the military commissions system it inherited is perhaps understandable, but it shows–and those internal doubts may contribute to public cynicism and therefore become self-fulfilling.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Matthew Waxman.
What this Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others won't get at this show trial is justice. These men have been tortured and humiliated to no end and in the end they will be executed. In fact, we should have shut down Gitmo ages ago and have sent these men to civil prisons stateside for a real trial.
I fully agree, George. The military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is a national disgrace and sticks out like a sore thumb! If those bozoes in Washington aren't going to try these suspected "terrorists" in a civil court and free of torture, maybe the best thing they can do now is to turn them loose!
Let's not get too hasty gentlemen. Any trial is better than no trial. It would be something worth watching, but somehow I don't think they'll be doing a public broadcast. Who knows.
you guys are paranoid. ayonne one who doesn't accept your claptrap doesn't do their research or is stupid. I am tired of hearing this and am more tired of your scant and piecemeal evidence to support this bizarre charade that you use to explain misfortune and your own inability to fit in with civilized society
Indeed, Guantanamo seems to be the only option, as an effort to bring the case to a civilian federal court in New York, met congressional and local opposition. But why now? Does it have anything to do with a presidential election? And what are the chances of a fair trial?
To answer you last two questions j. von hettlingen, to the first question the answer is yes it does as Obama hopes to be reelected this fall and to the second, none at all!!!!!!!!!
Waterboarder,do you consider youself as a fair means of interrogation in the war on terror?
HALAL MEAT..HA HA
The caller ID on Eman al-Obeidi's smart phone says private number. She guesses the call is from a fellow Libyan and promptly silences the ringer.
"I think the halal meat seller gave out my number," she says, picking up another piece of sizzling beef fajita. "That's why I don't buy halal meat anymore."
MMMMMMMMMMMM HALAL MEAT, U EAT SO MANY FK CO KS IN LIBYA
WHATS THAT GOT TO DO WITH STUPID MUSLIM WHO GAVE YOUR PHONE!!! HALAL IS BETWEEN U AND GOD
Like many issues conducted by the Obama administration, look for the orchestra (trial) to convene post-election.
No structure of any kind can progressively collapse by gravity from weak top down to strong bottom due to local failures up top. Prove me wrong and earn €1M at http://heiwaco.tripod.com/chall.htm .
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
Every week we bring you in-depth interviews with world leaders, newsmakers and analysts who break down the world's toughest problems.
CNN U.S.: Sundays 10 a.m. & 1 p.m ET | CNN International: Find local times
Buy the GPS mug | Books| Transcripts | Audio
Connect on Facebook | Twitter | GPS@cnn.com
Buy past episodes on iTunes! | Download the audio podcast
Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
RSS - Posts
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.
Join 4,855 other followers