Call me cynical.
The weekend after 9/11, I was at a garden party in Paris where I was living at the time. Most of the people there were French and most approached me to offer their condolences for the horrific attack. One man, an educated executive whom I had known for years came up to me as well. Just as I was about to thank him for his kind words, he began his diatribe. “You Americans deserved this. It was an attack waiting to happen because of your brutality throughout the Arab world. Now you’re a bunch of crybabies.”
Words escaped me. There had been editorials in French newspapers about American foreign policy which incited terrorists to commit acts against American embassies, military bases, and ships, but never did I expect such vitriol from an acquaintance face to face at a garden party. Others at that garden party heard the man and seemed to gather their courage to voice what were their true feelings about the attack and American foreign policy. Most of the opprobrium focused on United States as it affected the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Ah, the pecking order of undesirables, the Richter scale of the reviled, I thought to myself. In France, it was always a matter of convenience. Everyone hated the Jews except when it came to a choice between them or the Arabs in which case the Arabs were the losers unless, of course, they had oil wells and billions and were willing to invest in the French economy—hotels, high fashion or jumbo aircraft. In those cases, the desirable Arabs hired public relations firms that guaranteed their presence at chic 16th arrondissement dinners or presidential garden parties on Bastille Day, but only if they were not known to be on a first-name basis with certain renegade leaders or unstable rich boys who were bent on blowing up the world.
Flash forward to 2010 and America’s intention to bring to trial five of the “masterminds” of 9/11 here in New York City—the scene of the crime. At first, I was horrified and considered the venue to be an affront to our justice system. After all, from the beginning this was considered a war crime, an attack on our soil and therefore the perpetrators would be tried in a military court—without the benefit of our legal system, and presumption of innocence. How crude, how vulgar to reach for sensationalism, rather than give an example of a democracy which keeps war criminals separate from ordinary felons. How impossible it would be to give these men a fair trial with all the publicity, demonstrations, and opinions throughout the media. Then, my reaction became less outraged and far more pragmatic.
Adolph Eichmann, often referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust” was a Nazi charged with the task of facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Eichmann was captured by Israeli Mossad operatives in Argentina and tried in an Israeli court on fifteen criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was convicted and hanged in 1962. The trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany after its defeat in World War II. The Nazis were tried as criminals of war, as was Eichmann in Israel.
When the World Trade Center was attacked, along with the Pentagon, and an American aircraft was downed in Pennsylvania by its passengers to avert its crashing into the White House, George W. Bush called the attacks acts of war. In retaliation, the United States went to war in Iraq based on information that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda. Many suspected members of Al Qaeda were arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is operated as a United States military prison. The majority have languished there for years, charged with war crimes. After American troops and a small international coalition succeeded in capturing Saddam Hussein, he, along with several dozen of his cohorts were tried in a military court in Bagdad and sentenced to death.
Now, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his fellow Al Qaeda members are scheduled to be tried in New York for their part in the 9/11 attacks. Civil courts have rules where the permissibility of evidence is much stricter than in military courts. One only has to remember OJ Simpson’s murder trial after which he was acquitted and then compare it to the civil trial where he was convicted of the murders and ordered to pay millions to the victims’ families in reparations.
If the 9/11 attacks were an act of war, then holding suspects of that attack in a military prison in Guantanamo is justified. If Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, then invading the country was legitimate. If the United States and its allies are engaged in a continuing war against terror, then American troops in Afghanistan is warranted.
Here’s my problem.
Terrorist attacks are acts of war when it is convenient to label them as such. True, more people died in 9/11 than in any other terrorist attack against American installations and embassies abroad. I never knew, however, that defining an attack as an all-out war was a question of the number of casualties that resulted.
Invading Iraq was indeed an act of war as it was an organized military endeavor involving the United States and other countries. Invading Iraq under the guise of its having weapons of mass destruction was a patent lie.
Invading Afghanistan is again an act of war as American and other foreign troops are engaged in military maneuvers against a rag tag army of terrorists hiding in caves or among the civilian population.
The point is we have to make up our mind. The debate about bringing these five members of Al Qaeda to New York has nothing to do with the sensitivity factor of the families of the victims of 9/11. Their grief is forever. The only consideration for bringing these five men to trial in a civilian court should only be if they are common murderers or mass murderers.
Washington should make up its mind.
Are we at war?
Was 9/11 an act of war?
Are war criminals tried in military court or in civilian court?
Though dead is dead, I am nonetheless confused.