Friday, March 16, 2007

Behind Closed Doors

Now this.

Not that I have any particular fondness for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but at least as the New York Times cites him, he seems, relatively speaking, on top of his shit. His ethical system is pretty gruesome, but he seems at least to be making an effort. Which is to say, if we assume the hearings to have been conducted and transcripts thereby released in a vaguely ethical fashion—a pretty ludicrous claim given the rest of the evidence and legal technicalities surrounding 'em, but let's try it for a second—then KSM is a martyr in the non-Jihadic sense. He's sacrificing himself at his hearings in the hope of casting greater shadows onto United States conduct. I mean, yes, there are plenty of problems there (he probably knows he's pretty well caught in any case), but the thoughts cited about this being a political war, a political act, is pretty interesting both in terms of being a fairly different treatment of jihad than we've previously seen in the mainstream press from the oft-cited mainstream members of al-Qaeda (I've never read the Koran, and I wouldn't mind it if someone who has would weigh in on this), and in terms of casting a wider and more direct lens on where and how institutionalized politics and institutionalized religion interact than I've seen in a while.

It's something of a relief that even in the AP they're now quoting Human Rights Watch folks when Guantánamo comes up, but nobody seems to be addressing the fact that a White House transcript of a sealed confession hardly qualifies as fact. At least we get this knowledge from the Times:

By tribunal rules, Mr. Mohammed was aided by a “personal representative,” not a lawyer. His attempt to call two witnesses was denied. And the tribunal indicated that it would consider classified evidence not made available to Mr. Mohammed.

Combatant status review tribunals are informal hearings created in response to a 2004 decision by the United States Supreme Court to judge whether prisoners at Guantánamo were properly designated as enemy combatants and subject to indefinite detention. Unlike the military commissions that hear war crimes charges, the combatant status review tribunals offer minimal procedural protections and are not recognizably judicial.

In the past, the hearings have been partly open to the press. But a series of recent hearings, involving some of the 14 so-called high-value detainees transferred to Guantánamo from secret C.I.A. prisons last year, were closed. In addition to the Mohammed transcript, the Pentagon yesterday also released transcripts of the hearings of Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, top Qaeda operatives.

Not that the author's biased or anything, but hell, so am I. The hearings of both those last gentlemen were conducted in their absence. On al-Libbi's part, at least, that was a gesture of protest, though I'm not clear on the al-Shibh situation. Whatever grandiose and interesting KSM statements were released to the press, this whole thing makes me ill. I want to make some argument about the differences between this travesty of justice and, say, the proceedings at Nuremburg, to which someone else would respond that when Nuremburg rolled around the war in question was already over, which leads us always back to square one, the fact that a war on an abstract concept cannot be won. Abstract concepts are fucking tenacious. Particularly when no one besides the dictionary has bothered to define it, "terror" is going to stick around. (Drugs, astoundingly, are also still around.) Thoughts about the C.I.A. are a longer essay for a longer day, but especially with the Military Commissions Act now active on the table, the trickling manner of released transcripts and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's loose lips make me fear for, um, civil society.

I'll be hard-pressed to vote for a candidate who does not speak openly against the Military Commissions Act; that in itself is on my part an inadequate, sheltered American response. But not yet having access to it more visceral than my generalized liberal writer's empathy, I don't know where else to go. It certainly makes me feel that America's days as a democratic republic are, at the very least, on the wane. And if this is how we treat any sense of responsibility we once had, I think I'm okay with that.


At 12:52 PM, Blogger Connor said...

"especially with the Military Commissions Act now active on the table"

Surely you mean under the table...

Likewise, I'm also torn between the admission that this confession isn't up to any civilized standard of "credible testimony," and a slight relief that at least this is being acknowledged.

With reference to "jihad," in functions in the Qur'an much as "Hell" or "evangelize" do in the Bible, in the sense that everybody has their own idea of what it means, some of which are compatible with other worldview, and some of which are not.

But I must object (again) to the notion that we're in the middle of some irreversable wane. The more I edit books on American history the more I'm drawn to obvious parallels between this decade and the 1950s. None of us have really lived through a social or political shaek-up like that following McCarthyism. Our political life has been a pendulum for 200 years now, and I don't see why it's going to abruptly stop now...

At 7:23 PM, Blogger David said...

I’m glad someone else in the world doesn’t immediately take this confession as gospel. It seems reasonable and likely that he did these things, but then again, it also seems verrry convenient that just as the anti-war movement gets its ball rolling, here’s this guy who confesses to doing just about everything in the 9/11 attacks. Oh, and also he decapitated that reporter we all love! And he kicks dogs! Regardless of how true any of this ends up being, there is no part of this that doesn’t feel contrived.


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