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

Republicans Once Again Shamelessly Exploiting Terrorism For Political Purposes

It's been a great week for Republicans -- that is if you consider raging hypocrisy and shameless propaganda successful virtues. Two national security issues have come to the forefront and have given the GOP and its allies a major opportunity to criticize President Obama and the Democratic leadership.

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The first case involves the November 5th Fort Hood shooting rampage by US Army Major Malik Nadal Hassan, who Republicans are demanding be called a terrorist for killing 13 people in what they claim is the first act of terrorism on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The second involves the Obama Administration's decision last week to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorists in civilian court in New York rather than through a military tribunal, a move the right warns puts Manhattan, the judge, jury and victims' families in grave danger. You can literally smell the political posturing. The opportunity to hang a terrorist attack on Obama is a Republican's wet dream.

In the Hasan case, it's certainly quite politically expedient for Republicans to throw the terrorist tag on the psychotic psychiatrist. But perhaps they should wait for evidentiary proof that Hasan was indeed an Islamist jihadist connected to a terror organization in a plot to kill U.S. soldiers and not simply a horribly deranged, conflicted individual who committed a random act of violence.

Those who rush to label Hasan a terrorist must remember the charges of WMD and al Qadea connections against Iraq and Saddam Hussein. They were wrong then and they could be dead wrong now. If Hasan is indeed a terrorist, and his rampage a true act of terrorism, let that be the conclusion of a military investigation rather than indictment by partisan rhetoric. As heinous as Hasan's massacre was, perhaps that's all it was: a horrific, premeditated massacre. But that conclusion would not afford the GOP, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other conservatives the opportunity to exploit the dead purely for political purposes.

The most important test for Americans in the Hasan case is deciding what actually constitutes as terrorism, and therefore who is a terrorist. Any mentally ill Muslim can walk into a supermarket and yell "Allahu Akbar," as Hasan had before opening fire on his fellow soldiers, but does that in and of itself make him an Islamist terrorist rather than simply a violent fringe lunatic? Does this give license to Republicans to frame the debate with reckless, irresponsible and incendiary rhetoric? As ThinkProgress' Matt Duss put it: "The definition of terrorism is not 'any violence by any Muslim anywhere at any time for any reason'."

The rhetoric is no less in Attorney General Eric Holder's decision on Mohammed. To show how political this situation has become, consider the blatant hypocrisy since Friday of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who's been harshly criticizing the Obama administration as being soft on terrorism yet had nothing but praise and support amid the New York prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers:

"It seems to me that the Obama administration is getting away from the fact that we're at war with these terrorists. They no longer use the term, 'War on Terror'....This seems to be an over concern with the rights of terrorists and a lack of concern for the rights of the public...
It gives an unnecessary advantage to the terrorists and why would you want to give an advantage to the terrorists, and it poses risks for New York."

But back in the mid-90's Giuliani sang a different tune:

"It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal
system in the history of the world, that it works well, that that is the place to seek vindication if you feel your rights have been violated."
[The New York Times, 3/5/94]

"...New Yorkers won't meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon: the law." [The New York Times, 3/5/94]

"I think it shows you put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other, and our legal system comes out ahead." [CBS Evening News, 3/5/94]

The notion that a civilian trial is tantamount to letting these terrorists walk, or inviting them to turn the criminal justice system into a circus, or posing a tremendous threat to New York City, is completely without merit whereas history is concerned: since 2001, 195 cases of terrorism have been uneventfully prosecuted in civilian courts, with 91% ending in convictions, including those of '93 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard C. Reid. But this little factoid surely won't stop Republicans from turning both of the cases into an extremely noisy rallying cry.