United States Senator Arlen Specter -- former chairman and current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- would like to see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's federal court trial be televised.
"I'd be for that. Absolutely," the senator told me one day after questioning Attorney General Eric Holder about the decision to bring KSM to the Southern District of New York. "I would let the world see exactly what went on -- how calculating, how ruthless, how brutal they were, how devoid of any humanity. Contrasted with the decorum of federal court, where they are accorded rights, where they are treated with dignity."
At the outset of our conversation, Specter said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were perpetrated on American soil where legal tradition prescribes that those criminals be prosecuted here. A worldwide audience will be reminded of the horrific details of those events, Specter said, while those "who are not involved one way or another who are watching what we do with Guantanamo, watching what we do in our trials, will say, "You've got to hand it to the Americans. They're giving them all those rights and they're willing to use their values and not to be intimidated and I like them.'"
Pennsylvania's longest serving U.S. senator knows the implications of what he said. The man cut his political teeth more than four decades ago as Philadelphia's hard charging district attorney -- a Republican during a watershed Democratic era. As a young lawyer he was tapped to work on the Warren Commission. No doubt he was thinking of the Nuremberg trials when he invoked the "American values" and the "great many safeguards" the country will extend "to these blaggards."
He's also well aware of the arguments that support the current prohibition of cameras in federal criminal trials. Though the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have recently approved legislation that would allow cameras in federal courtrooms, neither was brought up for a full vote.
Specter said his support for broadcasting the proceedings stems from a prosecutorial belief that trying KSM in a federal civilian court is the right decision. The evidence is sufficient, he told me, as will be the security measures taken.
The "dominant factor" in his mind will be the contrast between America and the "bloody, ruthless, murderous terrorists" seated in a court that has never acquitted an alleged terrorist.
"The war against terrorism is going to be won in the minds and hearts of men. It is a battle of democracy versus fundamentalism, and by using our regular judicial system, we are showing the world the superiority of our democratic principles and our values," he said.
What about the men and women defending those principles in Afghanistan and Iraq? Senator Specter told me we're "fortifying them" by instilling a "confidence that they're defending a system of values that they can be proud of."
"When they're fighting terrorists wherever they might be, those terrorists are not totally stupid. I think that there are some who may well be ashamed and who may well be persuaded by the superiority of the way we're handling" terror trials in domestic courtrooms.
Not that Specter believes that every suspected terrorist needs to be flown to the U.S. to make that point. To the contrary, He called the objections of those who envision American soldiers reading Miranda rights to Osama bin Laden unfounded. "If you have battlefield conduct, that preeminently qualifies for the commission. And where you have the blowing up of the ship in Yemen -- our Naval ship in Yemen -- there's been a decision to move ahead with the commission. So there is a good distinction which justifies what we're doing here and doesn't tie us down in future matters," he said.
Nor does he tolerate any confusion between his desire for due process with a refusal to mete punishment. Lest his critics think he has gone soft on terrorism, consider his response to concerns that KSM's trial could turn into a circus. "If he turns it into a spectacle, he can be shackled." Or removed from the courtroom and forced to watch on closed circuit TV. "We've got answers to all of those issues as a result of centuries of judicial procedure," he said.
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