GOP Worries That Terror Trials Will Provide Terrorists With "Megaphone"

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One of the more amusing contentions to be made as a fearmongery talking point on the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in a New York City federal court is that the courthouse will turn into a "platform" for terrorists to project their warped ideas.

Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) recently said that a federal trial venue would do nothing more than provide suspects with "a megaphone to speak to the planet." Which in Franks's estimation, immediately leads to a nuclear attack by terrorists. In the same way, I suppose this is how traffic court gives rise to so many incidents of vehicular homicide.

The weird thing about this whole line of reasoning is that you can only support it if you pretend to have no idea how criminal trials work. Far from being a dramatic venue for criminals to engage in long-form monologues about their empty philosophies, trials are actually pretty boring displays of legal process -- evidence is presented, witnesses are questioned and arguments are mounted with tedious professionalism. It's hard to conceive of a situation that would require, let alone allow, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to get up in front of a jury and just start straight-up promoting the destruction of the Western world. But I have to imagine that any sensible prosecutor would be only too happy to let him shoot himself in the foot by doing so.

Of course, one of the problems with this argument is that the trial is not set up as a megaphone of any kind. Not that Franks cares:

When a reporter pointed out that federal trials aren't televised, perhaps making the "megaphone" a little less likely, Republicans said there were other ways for terror suspects to peddle their propoganda from a U.S. courtroom -- for example, sketch artists.

"What we've seen happen is artists draw pictures and this will be written up and there are interviews outside the courtroom everyday and there will be defense attorneys taking the global stage," King said. "We are in an electronic era where they Internet and all these other media that we have will create a real time look at what's going on in New York."

So, courtroom sketches on the interwebs and 10-second media soundbites with defense attorneys are going to foment terrorism? That would be interesting, to say the least, because I can't think of a single example of this ever happening before.

But look, it's important to remember that Eric Holder is not seeking to stage the jihadist version of "Spring Awakening" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. This is a trial, and whatever "megaphone" the terrorists will be provided will also be available to those who are prosecuting these men for their barbaric crimes. They'll be in those courtroom sketches too! And it's hard to imagine a circumstance in which our media doesn't privilege the prosecution in this case, in terms of coverage.

Against the nihilistic bleatings of KSM and his henchies, I am ultimately confident that the Argument Against Terrorism will sound more loudly in the minimal megaphone that's on offer. That's enough to make me want to ensure that those limited opportunities don't decline to zero if this trial is shoved into an out-of-sight tribunal.

It's actually pretty ironic. Why, I was under the impression that one nice speech about American exceptionalism could fix everything!

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