Spineless Pols Pass Buck on Terror Trials

Member Group : Nathan Shrader

President Obama can’t stand the heat. He’s buckling under the pressure of weak-kneed politicians in New York City and in Congress to move the terror trial of professed September 11th mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his allies to another venue. Late last week it was announced that Western Pennsylvania was on the table as a potential option.

The immediate reaction from the Western Pennsylvania political community was predictable. Allegheny County Executive and Dan Onorato said through a spokesperson that "We definitely want to see justice served, just not here." Former U.S. Attorney, Bush acolyte, and potential congressional candidate Mary Beth Buchanan decried the cost of such a trial. U.S. Senators Arlen Specter, Bob Casey, and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl all chimed in with their resistance to trying one of the masterminds of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in Pennsylvania.

The Obama Administration’s consideration of a venue change came after the New York hackery consisting of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Congressman Peter King, and Governor (for now) David Paterson teamed with certain congressional leaders to kvetch before the national press about why New York was such a lousy location to prosecute one of the most despised men on the planet.

What alternatives do they propose? Congressional Republicans prefer trying terror suspects in military tribunals. New Yorkers like Paterson seem to suggest trying them anywhere but in their backyard. When in doubt, the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yarders) rule the day.

These arguments pose two distinct problems. First, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution holds that a suspect must be tried in the venue where the crime took place. In this case, the options are New York City, Western Pennsylvania, or Virginia’s Eastern District. Second, the use of military tribunals is precluded because the U.S. Congress failed to formally declare war before launching an attack on Afghanistan in the days following September 11, 2001 as required by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

New York officials are afraid of using their city as the venue for bringing justice in a case that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people in their state. Pennsylvania officials want nothing to do with prosecuting the men responsible for crashing a plane into the earth in Somerset County. Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) believe that our justice system is so flawed that it cannot properly prosecute this madman.

It’s time to ask and answer some tough questions about the character of our public servants.

When did America replace her patriotic and proud men with a gaggle of timid mice? If the minutemen who stood their ground on Lexington Green would have behaved as our "leaders" do today we would be singing God Save the Queen before sporting events and spending time each day at afternoon tea.
How can a politician like Onorato—who wants to be the next governor—look into the eyes of the thousands of families who lost loved ones on that dreadful September day and suggest that justice has a political price tag that he is not willing to pay?

Ravenstahl voiced concerns over the "peace of mind" of his constituents. Don’t the people whose moms, dads, children, and friends who went to work on 9/11 and never returned deserve some "peace of mind" as well after all these years?

At what point in our history did we begin living in fear of our enemies, in dread of our own legal system, and in doubt as to whether the Constitution ought to be our guidepost?

Most significantly, why are gutless politicians willing to play cowardly games with the legal proceedings concerning the worst terrorist attack in American history? Ronald Reagan famously declared that "the future does not belong to the fainthearted: it belongs to the brave." It’s obvious that he’s never met the elected officials holding office in Pennsylvania, New York, or Washington today.

These apprehensive officials are playing the fear card so that their constituents and the voters who ultimately decide whether they remain employed or not feel protected by them. Voters ought to wonder why their politicians are pandering and passing the buck rather than facing down the enemy by allowing these prosecutions to move forward.

It is time for President Obama to put his foot down and declare that there will be no change of venue and for the politicos in the cities and towns capable of convicting these suspects to summon the courage to actually prosecute them. More so, it is time to trust the Constitution and the procedures so wisely put in place by those who came before us.

Hamilton wrote that "If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inavoidable respect for the Constitution and Laws—the first growing out of the last…. A sacred respect for constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government."

The Constitution is quite clear: there was no declaration of war by Congress, therefore military tribunals are not legally sound. Yet still, the political class panders for votes rather than leading.

It’s time to stop the hand-wringing and try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators. If New York doesn’t work, Western Pennsylvania or Eastern Virginia will. Those who paid the ultimate price on 9/11/2001 in the Twin Towers, Shanksville, and the Pentagon, deserve better than the political game they’re getting now.

Nathan R. Shrader is a PhD student in the Temple University Department of Political Science and also serves as Vice Chair of the Fifth Ward Republican Committee in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]