THE purported confession of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in which the alleged 9/11 mastermind took responsibility for no fewer than 31 terrorist attacks and plots going back to 1993, left readers feeling like they had stumbled onto a script for the next Borat movie.
The four-page monologue, released by U.S. military authorities, was offensive for its off-hand description of the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, unintentionally humorous for its broken English, and altogether not very credible.
As one of our colleagues observed, "You get the feeling that the next thing he'll be confessing to is Pearl Harbor - and that he did it to impress Britney Spears."
All jokes aside, our doubt about the validity of Mohammad's statement is serious because we don't really know under what conditions it was elicited from the captive, who has been in secret CIA custody since 2003 and who claims to have been tortured.
Moreover, reporters weren't allowed to watch Mohammed's body language as the statement was read on his behalf in a closed hearing at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during what our government called a "combatant status review tribunal."
The tribunal, in which the accused was accompanied only by a "personal representative" - an Air Force officer who is not a lawyer - bore no resemblance to the adversarial, truth-finding proceedings that characterize this nation's civilian law and, to a lesser extent, military justice.
The Bush Administration believes that's OK. Terrorists don't have any legal rights, they say. But the U.S. Supreme Court says otherwise. In 2004, the high court ruled the government had to carry out some semblance of due process in dealing with accused enemy combatants.
As we've argued before, conducting what are essentially kangaroo court proceedings against Mohammed and other "high value" terrorist captives is doing serious damage to the reputation of the United States as a nation founded on the rule of law.
Perhaps Mohammed was Osama bin Laden's "operational leader," responsible for carrying out the 9/11 attacks "from A to Z," as well as a whole string of terrorist acts and attempted acts back to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Or perhaps he is, as the 9/11 commission suggested, prone to exaggeration, with an inflated view of himself as a "super-terrorist."
In either case, authorities should be able to bring him to justice in a manner that satisfies the United States Constitution.
The question remains: If we can't uphold our own bedrock principles of fairness and justice, how can we claim the moral high ground in the battle against amoral terrorists?
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