We are not the Taliban: A letter to Jim Moran
Your essay entitled From Guantanamo to Alexandria, published in the Washington Post, in which you so gallantly offer Alexandria as a possible venue for the trial of Riduan Isamuddin, (aka Hambali, the Bali Bomber) has prompted me to write you. The fact that you believe that Alexandrian’s good will and nature will translate into blinded compliance with one of the most unpatriotic, dangerous and unconstitutional actions to date is unconscionable. Even if you claim in your essay that you are not openly campaigning for this trial to be held here, you are certainly prepared to make that move whether we like it or not. You forgot to mention in your essay several factors which are crucial in understanding the gravity of conducting these trials in the U.S.
President Obama and Sen. John McCain both pledged last year to close the Guantanamo facility because they recognized that the United States is governed by the rule of law and defined by our embrace of universal human rights. Indefinitely detaining individuals without charge violates the most basic principle of habeas corpus, greatly damages our international reputation, and fuels both terrorist recruitment and anti-American sentiment.
By and large, Alexandrians are civic-minded people and are ready to do their duty if it serves the greater good. They have shown this public spirit time and again. The “20th hijacker,” Zacarias Moussaoui, who participated in planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, was held and prosecuted in the Alexandria courthouse. Others who have been brought to justice in the court include the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh; Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad; and spies Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames.
First, the United States of America is a great nation! Our reputation has suffered greatly thanks to Mr. Obama’s apology tour of the world soon after he assumed the presidency. Mr. Obama has been instrumental in presenting the United States in a negative light by issuing apologies to other countries thus damaging our image, not our actions. Still, Americans continue unabated in their practice of the highest principles of human rights and the beacon of freedom around the world. In spite of historical events which could be cause for self-defeatist mentality, Americans forged a -nation of principled people that is forever edged in our heritage and carry-on for generations. Our rule of law is not what we should be examining here but the law of war.
There was no such thing as universal human rights for unlawful combatants to include the prisoners being held at GITMO until 2006 after Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. This case spurred on changes necessary to provide these prisoners with expanded procedural rights under the Military Commissions Act to include the right to be present for their trials and examine evidence against them. This was a well-intentioned improvement in that it helped balance out civilian and military jurisprudence which are very different due to the nature of warfare and these prisoners should not be judged under civilian law so the groundwork was already done.
The purpose of holding these terrorists, like in any war, is to separate them from the general population, remove them from their familiar environments and people in order to facilitate the extraction of information. Obtaining intelligence crucial to victory over our enemies should be our first order of business and holding them on U.S. soil is counterproductive. The U.S. is holding these terrorists as part of a sound national security policy. By allowing them to be tried here we are opening the door to the exploitation of our judicial system by the enemy and establish a terrible precedent that threatens our national security. The enemy has become rather skilled in how we do business and is busily working to win special treatment and attack our country’s values and beliefs.
Second, just because John McCain says jump off a cliff do we jump off a cliff? McCain has no credibility at all so I don’t know why you invoke his name. He aggressively supported keeping GITMO open for the sake of national security during the presidential campaign only to turn around and side with Barack Obama for its closure after he lost the election. He is too inconsistent for me or Americans of reasonable intelligence to consider his testimony relevant anymore even though he did say many times that closing GITMO would pose a clear and present danger to this country, as did Justice Scalia in 2008. Originally there was no right to habeas corpus for these enemy combatants until 2008 when the Supreme Court suddenly saw it differently and a majority deemed that because the U.S. runs GITMO then these legal rights could be extended to prisoners.
This is an abomination which you should not support in any way. After spearheading the establishment of a more defined policy regarding the imprisonment and prosecution of foreign fighters not covered under our Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions now we have to re-assess these prisoners all over again and determine their legal status. It is up for grabs now to see which of these prisoners will rate freedom due to some procedural mistake or loophole because they come under the habeas corpus. Some will probably walk while others could be tried and have their cases thrown out for lack of evidence, you name it. This is a mess.
Third, any trial held in the U.S. will encourage recruitment of these terrorist groups because they have always hated us, the hate us today and they will hate us tomorrow. There is no changing this and we all have to get used to the idea. Anti-American sentiment comes from the media portrayal of Americans and our way of life and our troops fighting in support of the war on terror; those are the elements feeding their hatred. The media has also created this aura of innocence for our enemies in that no matter how evil they are, how many people they maim or kill, they are always the victim and the U.S. perpetrator of human rights violations. Look at the case of the U.S. Navy Seals who are being shipped back to Iraq for their Courts Martial so that their Iraqi accuser can conveniently stay home and present a stronger case. One those Seals is a Virginian, by the way. He could use some moral support right now, but no love there. How about Lt Michael Behenna, who sits at Fort Leavenworth serving a 20-year sentence for killing a known AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) leader in self defense? Lt. Behenna only rated a five-year sentence reduction after his parents pleaded for him at a clemency board in right here in Virginia.
Exactly what is this stain on our national character are you referring to Mr. Moran? Have Americans done something against humanity that we need to rectify by relinquishing our rights? I am unconcerned about the fate of these terrorists. These are the same guys who receive more than humane treatment while awaiting trial. They are fed and clothed and allowed to pray and given legal representation.
Like those in any other congressional districts, we Virginians would rather not have terrorism suspects held and tried in our back yard. Should some of the detainees at Guantanamo be sent to the Alexandria courthouse, there is no question that people in the immediate vicinity — more than 10,000 residents and workers during business hours — would be affected. The strain on local law enforcement and other public safety officers would be significant. The media attention following such a decision would probably generate public outrage in some circles over safety concerns, regardless of the security measures implemented. Often, though, doing the right thing is neither popular nor convenient.
There is only thing I agree with you on is that the trial will cause the city financial and security concerns we may not be able to handle, so why support it? This trial is not only potentially expensive and a challenge to law enforcement but also opens the door for terrorists to posture against our great nation and tells enemies that it is open season on America. I would like to know why you believe that Alexandrians should be subjected to the perils of living with these trials instead of encouraging the Obama administration to try them under military justice. This is not a decision to be made by you with the assumption that you have implied consent from the constituency; which you do not. Your job is to bring this issue to Alexandrians directly, hold it up for scrutiny and debates then proceed with or without our approval.
Trying the accused, no matter how heinous the accusation, in a fair and transparent judicial procedure will reestablish our international moral authority and thus strengthen our national security.
I have a problem with the term ‘transparency’ here in that we must be mindful of the potential that our nation’s secrets will be compromised in these proceedings. This word is becoming part of some catch phrase that has nothing to do with national security. You mentioned that high-profile trials of turncoats like Zacarias Moussaoui, John Walker Lindh and John Allen Mohammed or the spy Aldrich Ames have been held in Alexandria as though they had no particular consequence. The difference is that these traitors are U.S. citizens. How can we administer U.S. law for foreign enemies completely if due process is flawed? When many of these loopholes such as not reading them Miranda Warnings or any outrageous claims of not receiving lawful treatment these prisoners could be freed to return to battle and kill more Americans which has already happened. Is this what you mean by serving the common good?
Maybe you think that they will want to stay here and hang out in Old Town and merge with the rest of Alexandria’s citizens and learn to love America. I truly doubt that is feasible. Come to think of it, if called to serve in such a jury, citizens will be faced with the dilemma of judging people who are not Americans and should not be tried here in the first place. Where exactly do we find a terrorist a jury of his peers? Well Alexandrians are not the Taliban and we have nothing in common with these terrorists and do not feel that we owe them or the world an apology for who we are.
But should President Obama determine that Alexandria needs to play a reasonably limited role in a nationwide effort to bring justice to the Guantanamo detainees and close this unfortunate chapter of American history, I am confident that Alexandrians will stand strong as they always have: gritting their teeth, stiffening their spines and carrying the load required so that the American values of justice and the rule of law are not overridden but, rather, respected and honored, as is our heritage as a great nation.
As far as I am concerned there is no black hole big enough to contain all the evils these terrorists espouse but if there were such a thing I’d vote for it on the spot. If we were to reverse the roles, Americans would never be afforded as much leniency and consideration by other countries as we do to these terrorists, ever. I am appalled that the United States has to lower its standards in the treatment of its citizens in order to please the international community. Ultimately the right thing is for you to pursue what is best for Alexandria which is not to support this trial or any other terrorist trial to be held here and recommend to Mr. Obama to keep Guantanamo open. Alexandrians should not have to be forced to grit our teeth as you say; on the contrary, the object of public service is to protect the citizens from harm through sound policies. At this time, it is doubtful that trying terrorists here will be in the public’s best interest and will further affect your political future.
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