Karl Rove's Misguided Argument Against Federal Trials for 9/11 Defendants

Karl Rove has an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal taking issue with President Obama's view that one of the reasons Guantanamo should be closed is that it serves as a training ground for terrorists. Rove argues that al Qaeda doesn't view Guantanamo as a significant issue, and that trying detainees in federal court will play into al Qaeda's hands by making them martyrs.

It's the second point, the "martyr" issue, where Rove's argument falls far short of the mark and also weakens his first point.

New York juries in the past have beaten al Qaeda at the martyr game, by rejecting the death penalty and returning verdicts of life in prison. Once the terror defendants are whisked away to Supermax for life, we rarely hear from them again. No martyrdom, just decades of isolation. What have you heard from Zacarias Moussaoui or Richard Reid since they began serving their life sentences? Zip. They have been silenced, except for their occasional pro se court pleadings, which get little if any coverage. Any chance for martyrdom has been effectively eliminated. [More...]

Consider the Embassy Bombing trials for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania:

[t]he jury deadlocked after 10 members concluded that executing [them] could make [them] a martyr for the terrorist cause.

More here. And, it's not just how al Qaeda views Guantanamo, it's how the world views the U.S. because of Guantanamo. It's a black stain that with every passing day becomes harder to erase.

The 9/11 defendants, if tried by military commission and sentenced to death, like suicide bombers, will be hailed as martyrs by al Qaeda and their followers. If tried in federal court and given life sentences, they will be forgotten.

The world will never hear from them again. Life in prison, especially a place like Supermax, is a fate worse than death. The sentences may not serve as a deterrent, but they also won't be any use to al Qaeda as a recruiting device. There's no great fundamentalist cause being served through a life sentence to Supermax. It's death that brings glory in their view, not a lifetime of banishment.

Memo to Karl Rove: It's not federal criminal trials that make martyrs of terrorists, it's the death penalty. Shuttering Gitmo, trying the defendants in federal criminal courts and if convicted, imposing life sentences instead of death, would indeed be a setback to al Qaeda by preventing Guantanamo and its detainees from being used as a terrorist tool. Where Gitmo stands among al Qaeda's list of grievances against the U.S. is irrelevant -- neither here nor there, nor a good argument for keeping it open.

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    That is an interesting assertion (none / 0) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 11:59:49 AM EST
    And, it's not just how al Qaeda views Guantanamo, it's how the world views the U.S. because of Guantanamo.

    Often asserted, but never proven.  However, even if true moving to a slammer in Thomson Ill. would do nothing about this.  The supposed upset would remain only focused on a new location.  Accusations of Koran stomping and torture would continue.

    Isn't this (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 12:45:40 PM EST
    a moot point since Congress just passed a bill outlawing civilian trials on US soil or foe Gitmo detainees to be transferred here?

    Or am I missing something?

    they banned funding for transfers to the US (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 01:38:48 PM EST
    which effectively bars criminal trials, but they didn't ban criminal trials. It was a funding bill. And it's only good through Sept. 2011. Perhaps if we get a decent Congress in 2012, the ban would be overturned.

    "martyrs" (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 01:01:08 PM EST
    I think the point is that the defendents in a federal court would look like "martyrs in a US Kangaroo court" during the circus of media coverage, videos (sanctioned or not) or the trials, etc).  It doesn't matter if Richard Reid disappears.  If there is one highly publicized trial a month for the next five years then there will be the ongoing flurry of publicity. The convicted terrorist will have served his purpose, much like a suicide bomber, and then be buried in the bowels of Supermax (until some high profile American is kidnapped and then the still-living terrorists will become bargaining chips in an extended version of the Iran hostage crisis).  

    cameras are not allowed in federal court (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 01:36:32 PM EST
    criminal trials, there would be no broadcasting of the defendants.

    i am confused. (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 09:25:00 PM EST
    why do so many people think karl rove is some kind of "genius"? since when does being your basic sleezeball equate with being a genius? mr. rove operates on a 16 year-old high school girl mental level (and god knows, i've lived with one of those!), and somehow qualifies to write op-eds in the nyt's?

    the "gray lady" should officially be renamed the "braindead lady".

    I think if the title to this post had (none / 0) (#8)
    by Anne on Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 09:35:05 PM EST
    been, simply, "Karl Rove's Misguided" it would have said all that needed to be said.

    It pretty much doesn't matter what the subject is, Karl Rove IS misguided, period.