Army Col. James Pohl probably thought he was doing the right thing.
The judge presiding over the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known in the media and military circles as the principal architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, worked with the prosecution to eliminate any evidence that may have favored Mohammed’s defense. Mohammed claims that he and the defense have not been permitted to see evidence in their favor and that the evidence could only be seen by their representation. He also claims that this was later retracted in favor of not showing the defense any evidence at all.
On the orders of Pohl, the evidence in question was destroyed through alleged secret communications between Pohl and the federal government—communications of which the defense has only just been informed.
Mohammed’s defense is now attacking the prosecution, accusing the military justice system of the United States of losing all credibility in the wake of such an order. Without the evidence in question, Mohammed’s defense has been despoiled by extrajudicial actions undertaken by the U.S. government.
Opinions on Mohammed aside, the nation’s laws should still apply to a man arrested by the United States. This is the government of a nation that determined that all men are created equal in the eyes of the law, but has failed to apply this to the terrorists who committed one of the tragedies that defined a generation.
Hypocrisy is the new norm of these judicial proceedings, one legitimized by the new status quo of “national security.” The very idea of moving Mohammed out of Guantanamo Bay to a stateside prison, let alone trying him in a civilian court, causes shudders among citizens and the government, but there is no reason for it to elicit such a reaction.
If Timothy McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, could be afforded a civilian trial while still being considered a terrorist, then Mohammed should be extended the same privilege. In this age, however, normal laws no longer apply to those suspected of terrorism.
They only apply to people who have faces that can obtain public sympathy and who spark half-assed debates in media outlets. It is a stain on the reputability and moral bedrock upon which the United States was founded.
Rot spreads from the bottom-up, from our municipal court systems being accused of targeting citizens based on color and social class to the highest echelons manipulating the judicial process to achieve desired results.
We have allowed a court system to act on our personal anxieties without understanding that anxieties are naturally irrational. Our anxieties are also manipulated and taken advantage of, especially by the media and the current administrators of our federal government. To them, we need something to fear, something to unite us and follow the rules to the last punctuation mark under the guise of safety.
So we reach the world of military tribunals, the extension of state power through what should be a codified, clear system with exceptions taken to protect the rights of the accused. A person’s rights do not fly away like butterflies the moment he or she walks into a courtroom.
If anything, they should be seen as armor on one’s being. The fact that the United States has thrown such ideals and laws out of the window should be subject not just to scrutiny but to sanction and consequences. If any other nation had such horrendous treatment of prisoners, headlines would blare like sirens and men in suits would make verbose, biting remarks on national television. “How dare they” and “subject to criticism” and “withdrawal of support” would be thrown around as if such words carried any real weight.
Internally, however, the story mutates. Suddenly, the biting words and the men in suits hide in corners as undersecretaries and assistants release brief, tired statements barely justifying unwarranted actions of the state.
Some citizens, especially on the internet, shout and yell but the protests are met by murmurs. No wonder U.S. citizens have such a malaise toward political action. After all, what should one do when the protests are met by pepper spray and exhausted bystanders? It just becomes another image, a fleeting photo in the flood of bad and wrong with the world that the average citizen feels he or she cannot fix.
But it can be fixed. It takes monumental, shattering change but that can only come from those whose rights are being infringed. Even those of Mohammed.