"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


February 4, 2010

United for Peace of Pierce County opposes a bill (S.2977) that would transfer the trial of those accused of conspiracy in connection with the September 11 attacks to a military court. We consider politicians who complain that civilian trials are, as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put it, "unnecessarily dangerous, messy, confusing, and expensive" to be irresponsible fear-mongers.

Sen. Graham was one of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation this week to force special military trials for the accused September 11, 2001, conspirators ("Senators push for 9/11 trials in military court," Reuters, Feb. 2, 2010). In the view of many, Graham's legislation would also keep Guantánamo open for years to come.

The Justice Department, which in November announced plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants in federal criminal court in New York, declined to comment on the legislation. "The Obama administration has been caught off guard by mounting bipartisan opposition" to its plan, and the White House and Justice Department have been forced "to spend time and political capital to try to ensure that funding for the criminal trials is not blocked," Reuters said.

Though he denied any political motivation, it could scarcely be more obvious that, by reviving a bill that the Senate has already rejected (54-45, on Nov. 5, 2009), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is seeking to restore some polish to ultraright credentials that have come under attack back in Charleston County on account of his support for the bank bailout, his views on immigration reform, and his support for climate change legislation. On Monday President Obama "described the opposition to the criminal trial as 'rank politics' because most prosecutions of foreign terrorism suspects during his Republican predecessor George W. Bush's administration were held in criminal courts," Reuters said.

John Mueller of Ohio State demonstrated years ago in a book entitled Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them (Free Press, 2006) the extent to which "our reaction against terrorism has caused more harm than the threat warrants -- not just to civil liberties, not just to the economy, but even to human lives." Republicans in general and quite a few Democrats have participated in instilling in Americans what Mueller calls "a false sense of insecurity," stoking fears for their own political and sometimes financial benefit when responsible leaders would have calmed them. Mueller calculated that the actual danger an American faces of dying from terrorism is about the same as being killed by lightning. Yet the U.S. spending on the War on Terror passed the $1 trillion mark in early 2009 (Time, Dec. 26, 2008) and continues apace with no end in sight.

The War on Terror serves a need that is even more pressing to American leaders than the welfare of the American public, however. It provides a justification for the enormous sums that sustain our immense armed forces and the host of other national security state agencies and investments that embody and implement what Andrew Bacevich calls "the new American militarism." After 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the national security state had a hard time explaining its raison d'être. After September 11, 2001, that problem vanished, and we now find ourselves in what Dexter Filkins called, in the title of his prize-winning book, The Forever War.

But it's not enough for people like Lindsey Graham to militarize U.S. policies and foster authoritarian governments around the world, provided that doing so serves American economic interests. He and his colleagues are also intent on subverting the United States Constitution. Lately he and other Republicans claiming to be conservative have been spreading the radical notion that rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution are held only by U.S. citizens. This is categorically false. In Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) the Supreme Court said: "The fourteenth amendment to the constitution is not confined to the protection of citizens. . . . These provisions [due process of law and equal protection] are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality."

Let's keep the politics of fear-mongering out of our judicial insitutions. Other nations have faced down serious terrorist threats without subverting their legal traditions. So can the United States. Keep the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants in federal criminal court!



"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."