By Dale McFeatters
If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspects in the 9/11 attacks had been tried in U.S. civilian criminal courts in 2009, as the Obama administration desired, they would likely have been found guilty, if the evidence is as strong as the government says it is.
Their trials would have been in open court in Manhattan and, since most of the world seems to be well-versed in the U.S. legal system thanks to the TV series "Law & Order" and its offshoots, the trials would be seen to be fair.
Moreover, by now the defendants would be well into the appeals process and perhaps three of them several steps closer to the death penalty.
But Congress, through a mixture of timidity, lack of confidence in a criminal justice system that is the envy of the world and a thinly concealed desire to see the defendants railroaded to convictions, blocked bringing the defendants to the U.S. mainland.
Congress ordered that America's great continuing legal black eye and embarrassment ― the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba ― be kept open and the defendants tried there. The remoteness and the extreme security of that venue guarantee that the five will virtually be tried in secret.
According to the Justice Department, U.S. civilian courts have tried 195 cases of terrorism since 2001, 91 percent of them resulting in convictions. The judges and prosecutors of the Manhattan criminal court where the 9/11 conspirators would have been tried especially have great expertise in terrorism cases.
Instead, the five will be tried before an untested military tribunal that has been under almost constant revision since President George W. Bush proposed it in 2002 and is still something of a legal work in progress.
This trial should have been over.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service. (www.scrippsnews.com)