The Trial of the Century and the Long Shadow of 9/11

We're about to undergo a discovery process that may include a few surprises

by , November 16, 2009

A weird concatenation of events – the Ft. Hood shoot-up, the decision by the Obama administration to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 plotters, and the seizure of a mosque and other properties said to be owned by a front for the Iranian government – has once again brought the question of domestic terrorism to center stage. This underscores a remarkable fact: that the 9/11 attacks, even more than the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor, have influenced, even dominated, our domestic politics as well as our foreign policy. We are still standing in the long shadow of that event, and nothing, it seems, can haul us out of the dark and back up into the light.

The upcoming trial in New York of KSM and his confreres promises to be a media circus unparalleled in the history of this nation: think of the Lindbergh kidnapping case and the O. J. Simpson trial, and then imagine if Lee Harvey Oswald had lived to be tried – and then multiply that by 10. This promises to be more than a show trial; it is going to be high drama in the courtroom, not a stylized Kabuki theater ritual, in which control of the narrative will be fiercely fought over as both sides try to dominate the proceedings and imprint their own "spin" on the drama as it unfolds.

What fascinates me, however, is not the prospect of the trial itself, but the reasons behind the Bush administration’s refusal to get this over with as soon as they got their hands on the defendants. Here they had a perfect opportunity to stage a show trial, control the narrative, and show for all the world to see the unspeakable evil of the 9/11 plotters – so why didn’t they do it? Why, now, are we left, all these years later, to clean up their mess?

I don’t buy the official story, which is that the Bush Justice Department, under orders from the White House, was unwilling to do it as a matter of high principle, the principle being that these guys were not and are not ordinary criminals, but "enemy combatants" who didn’t deserve the legal forms reserved for U.S. citizens and legal residents. Since when would any "principle" stop them from using a public trial as a weapon in their "war on terrorism"? And since KSM admits his guilt – indeed, proclaims it – there doesn’t seem to be any problem reaching a guilty verdict. The end result would seem to be preordained.

Unless…

Unless a trial would bring out certain facts that the Bush administration didn’t want revealed. We already know they tortured KSM, and surely they were aware his confession was tainted, but that isn’t as much of a big deal as it’s made out to be. Most Americans (present company excluded) believe the 9/11 plotters deserved to be tortured, so the domestic public relations fallout – as opposed to the strictly legal consequences – would redound to the Bushies’ favor. And as the Bush crowd was never all that concerned with our image overseas, international reaction to details of torture sessions would presumably not come into play.

Torture aside, however, it occurs to me that the Bushies didn’t want a public trial because, after all, KSM and his comrades planned and helped [.pdf] execute the most successful – and deadliest – act of terrorism on U.S. soil in our history, and if anyone knows the real story behind it, it’s the defendants in this case. At the very least, their testimony will show up the Bush administration for the utter incompetents they were and expose to public view the gaping holes in our security al-Qaeda managed to crawl through without much difficulty.

Furthermore, we have to ask the question: what else will the defendants reveal about how they managed to down the twin towers and devastate the Pentagon armed only with some box-cutters?

In spite of the numerous commissions, studies, books, films, and seemingly endless public discussion of this signal event, a great deal of the facts surrounding the 9/11 attacks remain shrouded in mystery. And of course, this has given rise to a whole panoply of conspiracy theories, conjectures, and alternative narratives that have continuously threatened to overtake the official story and replace it with something far darker and more ambiguous.

I, for one, fail to understand how the hijackers, with minimal technical skill and arms, managed to take over four airliners and – with superb timing and pinpoint accuracy – ram them into such high-value targets with absolutely no outside help. Not that there haven’t been intimations of such help. Was the Bush administration aware of some form of outside assistance (perhaps indirect, albeit intentional), possibly from state actors, and determined to keep it under wraps?

Which raises another interesting question: why did the Obama administration decide to go ahead with prosecutions in a U.S. court? Could it be that they don’t know everything the Bushies know – and are about to open a Pandora’s box out of which will spring some pretty unpleasant wraiths?

Before I get too far afield in pure speculation, I want to stop here and consider the Ft. Hood shooting, which the right wing (led by the neocons) is promoting as a mini-9/11. There is no solid evidence Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was acting under orders from any terrorist outfit, although it is too early to rule this out entirely. Hasan was in touch with a radical imam who preached at the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers. Hasan prayed at this mosque when he was stationed in the D.C. area, and he exchanged as many as 20-to-30 e-mails with this character, who now lives in Yemen and who praised Hasan as an exemplar of Muslim piety. We also have one member of Congress who claims there is a financial connection to Pakistan, although the details remain sketchy.

I am astonished, however, by the vehement reaction I’ve received to my raising even the possibility of a terrorist connection. One lefty blogger, after noting that Pat Robertson is whipping up "Islamophobia" over the Ft. Hood incident, avers, "I’m not surprised, either, that Antiwar.com’s editorial director Justin Raimondo is also jumping to right-wing conclusions over the Fort Hood shooting untethered from any factual basis."

So now we have "right-wing conclusions" and "left-wing conclusions." Is there any room in our crazy, mixed-up, post-9/11, Bizarro World universe for plain old standard-issue conclusions? Apparently not.

This guy also fails to note that I drew no firm conclusions about the Ft. Hood massacre being directed or inspired by a terrorist conspiracy – I merely raised the possibility, which is hardly "untethered from [sic] any factual basis." The fact is al-Qaeda exists, as does the enormous amount of ill will – and, yes, hatred – directed at the U.S. because of our foreign policy. Is it "untethered" to "any factual basis" to believe we might be scorched by the blowback? This isn’t a "right-wing" conclusion or a "left-wing" conclusion; it is objective reality.

The timing of all this is oddly coincidental and, in one case, probably not due entirely to chance, which brings us to the seizure of that supposedly Iranian-owned mosque (they also are said to be the real owners of the Piaget building in Manhattan) – with the clear implication this represents some sort of security risk. The question is, why now? Why, when the administration is trying to get the Iranians to make concessions at the negotiating table, is the Justice Department prosecuting alleged Iranian proxies in the U.S.? This only adds to the atmosphere of hysteria and suspicion heightened by the Ft. Hood incident and the upcoming 9/11 trial. One has to conclude the Obamaites are deliberately fanning the flames – but to what end?

Yes, I realize this column raises many questions and answers practically none of them, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in these days, and there’s no getting around it. I don’t pretend to have all – or even a good many – of the answers. But the path to real knowledge is asking the right questions and, furthermore, being unafraid to go where the facts lead, whether the conclusions we draw are "right-wing" or "left-wing."

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Now that’s an odd admission for a pundit to make: I don’t have all the answers. And it’s pretty uncharacteristic of my style, which is usually imbued with a ruthless certainty, at least insofar as my views of what ought to be are concerned. Yet advocacy journalism is not only concerned with what ought to be, but also with what is. Indeed, a writer’s main task is to make the connection between his or her views and the facts.

The problem is that the facts are not always revealed in their entirety in the first five minutes of a crisis. Look at the Ft. Hood attack: first Hasan was dead, and then he wasn’t. Initial reports posited more than one shooter, and it was only later that a lone gunman – an all-too-familiar figure in the history of American assassinations – emerged as the perpetrator. We are still learning about this enigmatic Army recruit, a Muslim who joined the military against his parents’ wishes and the advice of his friends and was openly and vehemently opposed to what he considered a U.S. war on the Muslim faith. He even went so far as to make a long presentation at a conference of military psychiatric and medical personnel that seemed to justify terrorist attacks by Muslims. He was also reportedly under investigation for his inflammatory Internet postings praising suicide bombers – although, inexplicably, the probe never went anywhere.

I repeat these facts because… well, facts are important, although they seem to have gone out of fashion. We have "left-wing" truth and "right-wing" truth – but what, pray tell, is the real truth?

That is the reason for Antiwar.com: to sort out the real truth from the ideological propaganda, so that we can make a reality-based case for a rational, non-interventionist foreign policy. It isn’t enough to have a point of view; indeed, everybody has one. What everybody doesn’t have is access to those particular facts that shed light on the darkest corners and illuminate the hidden reality – unless, of course, they are regular visitors to Antiwar.com

That’s why it’s so important to keep Antiwar.com going, and there’s only one way to do that. Yes, I’m talking about our fundraising drive – again! – but it has to be done. If you want the sheer unadulterated, un-spun reality, the gritty details of a foreign policy that violates human rights and common sense, well, you’ve come to the right place.

We depend on the contributions of our readers and supporters to keep operating. Without that, we are gone. It’s as simple as that. So if you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so – and help keep alive the tradition of foreign policy journalism that is neither "left-wing" nor "right-wing," but simply dedicated to saying what is.

Please note: I’m doing a daily brief commentary for The Hill, Capitol Hill’s newspaper of record. Today’s question is "What must Sarah Palin accomplish on her book tour?" My answer is here, along with those of (so far) Larry Sabato and Glenn Reynolds.

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