It?s Show Trial Time!

You can?t please all of the people all of the time, but  President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, have  got nearer than most to pulling it off. A week ago Holder announced that  Khaled Shaikh Mohammed  and four alleged co-conspirators will  soon  go on trial in federal court in New York for planning the attacks of September 11, 2001. After a week?s uproar it?s fair to conclude that  this was smart politics on the part of the Obama team. The fact that Holder, a man with famously sensitive political antennae, told the press that political considerations played ?no part? in his decision only buttresses this judgment. The prime function of all US Attorneys General is to loyally undertake the political requirements of  their President.

The scenario envisaged by Obama, his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Holder is presumably that somehow a jury of unprejudiced citizens will be convened, and ultimately ? hopefully sometime  before the election of  2012, at least Khaled Sjhaikh Mohammed  will step into the execution chamber, thus vindicating Obama?s oft-advertised commitment to track down the perps of 9/11 and kill them. So eager is Obama to underline this point that last Friday he declared in Japan that those offended by the trial will not find it ?offensive at all when he?s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.?. This remark came right after his assertion that the trial would be ?subject to the most exacting demands of justice.? Realising that the latter remark might be construed by some pettifogging civil libertarians as prejudicial to a fair trial , Obama  then added that he was ?not going to be in that courtroom. That?s the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury.?

So, in this prospectus,  even if the Great War on Terror does not prosper in Afghanistan it will proceed satisfactorily in execution chambers here in the Homeland, with the possible lagniappe of  Major Hasan, the  alleged Fort Hood shooter, also   getting a lethal injection  after conviction in a military court.

It?s certain that the legal team mustered  to defend KSM and the other four will be reviewing mountains of documents amassed by the prosecution, setting forth the evidentiary chain that led to the indictments of the Ground Zero Five. Of course most of these will no doubt be classified top secret, to be reviewed by defense lawyers only under conditions of stringent security, but it?s certain that enough will be leaked to portray  the Bush Administration and Republicans in general  in a harshly unflattering light,  ignoring profuse indications of the unfolding  conspiracy.

For their part ? though the smarter among them may worry about disclosures of Bush and Cheney?s incompetence or worse —  the Republicans also exult at the opportunity offered them by Holder?s decision to savage the Obama administration as  soft on terror by the mere fact of haling KSM and the others into a U.S. courtroom, as opposed to giving them a  drumhead trial by military ?commission? outside the jurisdiction and dispatching them without the contemptible procedures of a formal trial inside the borders of the United States. Memories of the O.J. Simpson jury trial and the verdict of not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are a strong undercurrent here. In many of the berserk  commentaries from the right this last week one can smell the panic fear that somehow a  slimeball defense attorney in the Johnny Cochran mould will dupe a jury (composed, remember, of people solemnly swearing they have an open mind on the case)  into letting KSM and the others slip off the hook and stride from the courtroom,  free men.

Of course there?s not the remotest chance of that, though it is true, as CounterPuncher Peter Lushing points out, that ?a single eccentric juror could hang the jury necessitating a re-trial. Eleven-to-one deadlocks in long trials are not unknown. The jury pool comes from Manhattan, the Bronx, and a few minor counties north of New York City, fertile ground for cranks, revolutionaries, Bush and/or America haters, crypto-Islamists, and what-have-you. Courtroom procedures designed to screen out these outlaws have obviously been proven not to be perfect. And if the jury ‘hangs’ on the death penalty, there is no do-over, and a life sentence is imposed.?

No doubt the  Ground Zero Five will have accomplished and dedicated attorneys. There are scores of trial lawyers itching to step into history as intrepid defenders of due process and the requirements of a proper trial. They will urge dismissal, on grounds that a fair trial is impossible, that the evidence was obtained under torture, that the constitutional requirement of a speedy trial has been flouted, that the shielded identities of the informants providing the prosecution?s evidence  similarly flout the defendants? right to confront their accusers.

They will offer these and scores of other persuasive arguments, and it is impossible to imagine they will prevail. As David Feige, a public defender in the Bronx,  presaged in a smart piece on the Slate site, these efforts by the defense team will fail and produce bad law.

?Ever deferential to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will affirm dozens of decisions that redact and restrict the disclosure of secret documents, prompting the government to be ever more expansive in invoking claims of national security and emboldening other judges to withhold critical evidence from future defendants. Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM’s initial torture from his subsequent ?clean team? statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they’ve been after all this time?a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.?

The  liberal-left is  appreciative of Holder?s decision too, since it takes prosecution of KSM and his supposed co-conspirators out of the hands of the awful military ?commissions?. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the announcement ?an enormous victory for the rule of law.?  Actually, it was demonstrably  a partial victory since that same Friday Holder simultaneously announced that a military commission will try five others, also being held in Guantanamo,  including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of planning Al Qaeda?s 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York is pleased. In the short term it takes the focus off his embarrassingly close victory in the mayoral race. In the midterm there will be endless opportunities for mayoral announcements ranging from dramatic bulletins on security deployments around the Foley courthouse to compassionate photo ops with the relatives of those killed in the 9/11 attack. And the attitude of these relatives? Mixed, as one might readily imagine.

Delighted too must be Khaled Sheikh Mohammed who has already declared he exults at the prospect of the execution chamber and the martyrdom it will bring, preluded by the platform offered by the trial. But perhaps even more delighted than KSM are the beleagured newspapers of New York to whom Holder?s announcement has came like a  snort of methamphetamine up the nose of a fading  tweaker: ahead lie months of searing headlines, blood-curdling editorial howls for vengeance in the Post and the Daily News, plus graver but copious coverage in the New York Times.

Of course there are those who gravely lament the impending spectacle, the fakery of judicial ?impartiality?, the pompous sermons about the rule of law, the hysteria, the howls for vengeance. Bring them on, say I. Let’s face it, we could do with some drama and American political life is at its most vivid amid show trials. Their glare discloses the larger political system in all its pretensions and   its disfigurements. The show trial is as American as cherry pie , as  the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown ? currently serving life without the possibility of parole in the Supermax in Florence, Colorado ? famously said about violence.

Major Hasan: Victim or Soldier of Islam?

From: Ismael Hossein-zadeh
Subject: Your Essay on Fort Hood
Date: November 14, 2009


I am writing to express my utter disappointment and dismay at your shabby, Islam/Muslim-bashing commentary on the Fort Hood tragedy in your last CounterPunch Diary. Had your analysis/explanation been written anonymously, I would have thought it was written by a bigoted Right-winger from, let?s say, the Fox News. Indeed, in a roundabout way, you do side with the Right on this issue when you criticize General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, for ?bristling at demands from the Christian right that there should be some sort of loyalty review or even winnowing.? You lament that, in so doing, ?The general obviously doesn?t have Edward Gibbon?s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on his bedside table.? Had General Casey read Gibbon?s book, you continue, he would have learned ?that the introduction of foreigners ?into Roman armies became every day more universal, more necessary and more fatal. Rome was captive before she was taken.?? So, why don?t you, Alex, as an apparently concerned citizen, in the role of a volunteer journalist advisor, send the General a copy of Gibbon?s book before it is too late, that is, before US imperialism is corroded from within, by foreign/Muslim members of the US armed forces, as you insinuate!

Please do yourself a favor and read/re-read Vijay Prashad?s ?Can the Major Speak?? article that appeared in the same issue of that also contained your reprehensible article. And please don?t tell me, ?you have misunderstood me,? because I ran your essay by two friends to make sure that there was no misunderstanding, as I simply could not believe what I was reading when I first read your essay.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh
Drake University (Economics)
Subject: To Hossein-zadeh – Re: Your Essay on Fort Hood
Date:        November 15, 2009

Ismael –

Contrary to your mistaken view, buttressed by your compliant friends, I neither criticized nor endorsed Gen. Casey’s remarks. I offered them as a significant statement from the  top uniformed commander, which it obviously was. Your rather childish sarcasms about Gibbon leave me wondering what your position on America’s imperial army actually is.  Is the source of your indignation that I raised the issue of “loyalty” in connection with a militant Muslim?  It’s obvious in my piece that I sympathize entirely with Muhammad Ali’s famous expression of disloyalty  to Empire (expressed as a Muslim convert)  and indeed leftists in general take that stance, in organizing on campuses and communities against recruiting drives by the US armed forces, and in expressing full solidarity with soldiers who refuse to fight or specifically resist deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in the 1960s the antiwar movement certainly was in overall sympathy with the mutinies in Vietnam – though with  the murders  of officers  approval was mostly demure or tacit.

Today, the reaction of Muslims here — including at least one fairly radical CounterPuncher  – has been to say it’s outrageous to raise the issue of loyalty and that thousands of Muslims in the Forces capably discharge their duties in the service of Empire, that Hasan was just a bad apple. But shouldn’t the anti-imperial left – which presumably includes you – want Muslim  as well as the soldiers in general, to be mutinous, to challenge by all means necessary the imperial missions to Iraq and now Afghanistan and Pakistan? Hasan’s young friend  refused to condemn, expressing this in phrases of admirable clarity. So what is your position overall? What do you tell your students? That the wars are wrong – that they should be resisted and that Hasan was right in his expressions of resistance down the years, at least until but not including the moment he opened fire in Fort Food. Suppose he had waited to open fire until he was in a unit on the front lines in Afghanistan rounding up villagers?

Overall, the left doesn’t like these questions and finds them embarrassing. They tend to retreat like you into hasty assertions of Muslim bashing, and cautious identification of Hasan as a wounded soul, somehow a victim of pre-traumatic stress syndrome. In my column I wanted to show how a gigantic imperial-bureaucratic institution like the Army dealt with an officer who clearly and explicitly on many occasions announced his disloyalty, and gave enough signals that some of his colleagues concluded he might take a violent turn. The Army did nothing.  CounterPuncher David Price suggests to me that as a bureaucratic institution the Army was reluctant to confront Hasan because it would have then raised the far larger issue of militant Christianity, now saturating the Imperial armed forces.

To your evident disapproval, the historian Gibbon raised the issue of recruitment in Rome’s armies, and said that the necessity of bringing in recruits who were not cives Romani (he actually called them barbarians, in the usage of Herodotus) was a major factor in the Empire’s collapse.

Personally, I think the Roman Empire was ripe for collapse and applaud that irony of history. Today, a considerable number of all recruits to America’s “volunteer” forces are legal residents promised accelerated citizenship.(A promise frequently betrayed when numbers of these volunteers have found themselves facing deportation after military service.)These are developments leftists should note and discuss. The fact that the right notes them too should not be an inhibition.

But alas, the left – not really a left when it comes to the crunch – is understandably nervous when it comes to issues of loyalty, active disloyalty and propaganda of the deed. Witness its fury if one argues, as I have, that Lee Harvey Oswald was a leftist who wanted to take the pressure off Castro and who somewhat succeeded in that endeavor, or its embarrassment if one mentions that Sirhan was a Palestinian who was infuriated at Robert Kennedy’s pro-Israel statements in California and his endorsement of impending sale of some US fighter planes to Israel.

Subject: Re: Your Essay on Ft. Hood
Date:        November 17, 2009


I agree with you that, in committing the Fort Hood mass murder, Hasan acted out as a religious/Muslim extremist/militant. But that?s where our agreement ends. While you blame the Ft. Hood brutal shooting on his disloyalty and/or religious beliefs, thereby de-contextualizing the madness that drove Hasan to embark on that lethal rampage, I look beneath the surface, into the more complex factors and forces that gradually drove him to religious extremism, or to lose faith in military service. From 2003 until last summer Hasan worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital?s psychiatric staff. In that capacity he witnessed, and obviously internalized, some of the most harrowing and traumatizing instances of the brutalities of war. His aunt told the Washington Post that on the rare occasions ?when he spoke of his work in any detail ? Hasan told her of soldiers wracked by what they had seen. One patient had suffered burns to his face so intense ?that his face had nearly melted,? she said.

As his anxiety and aversion to war increased, it became increasingly obvious that he was no longer suited for the military service. It also increasingly became clear that he needed help/counseling. Instead, he was pushed from Walter Reed to Fort Hood, where he learned that he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan. He had hired a military lawyer and had been attempting to avoid being sent overseas and to leave the Army since September. Hasan?s aunt also told the Post that the military ?would not let him leave even after he offered to repay? the cost of his medical training.

This is of course not to justify his brutal mass murder, but to show the context that led him to religious extremism and the madness that, in turn, led to those monstrous crimes?. I believe that a principled position on this issue must reject the reductionist, simplistic and scapegoating explanations such as loyalty or religious beliefs. Such diversionary, obfuscationist explanations have always been used by flag-waving war mongers at the expense of more complex explanation ns that would put the ultimate blame where it belong: brutal wars of aggression and multiple deployments that have brought many members of the armed force to the breaking point. Thus, the issue of loyalty/disloyalty was used to send Japanese-Americans to internment camps, to justify the which-hunting of McCarthyism, or to accuse presidential candidate John Kennedy as a puppet of the Pope.

Subject:        To Hossein-Zadeh 2 Re: Your Essay on Ft. Hood
Date:        November 17, 2009

Ismael , There it is – you, like almost every liberal and progressive, take the line that Hasan’s  killings were   some variant of pre-traumatic or intra-traumatic stress syndrome, committed as the old legal phrase goes,  “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”, whereas I do Hasan the favor of taking him seriously in terms of his frequently expressed religious and ideological commitments.

As regards your comments on the larger issue of justifiable mutiny and active resistance (as opposed to going  to live in Toronto or simply disqualifying oneself from service by getting hugely fat at McDonalds) I don’t understand them – as I often don’t when academics  start talking about “more complex explanations”.  On this issue too you seem to prefer victimhood to heroism – though some of the most heroic pages in history belong to mutineers, whether Spartacus or the mutineers on the Nore in 1797, the sepoys in the Indian mutiny of glorious memory. In these cases I do  favor —  to use your words —  “reductionist, simplistic and scapegoating explanations such as loyalty or religious beliefs”  — loyalty here being to values superior to the Flag.

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