The Only Anchor

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that some top al-Qaeda 9/11 conspirators will be tried by jury in New York not far from the scenes of devastation that they had wrought.

decision by the Obama administration demonstrates faith in the American
way of life, and a conviction that even the worst mass murderers can be
dealt justice by democratic institutions.

Republican critics vowed to fight the decision, since they much prefer
to hold people forever without trial while torturing them, sort of the
way some English kings did in North America before there was that pesky
American constitution. In fact, on a whole range of issues, the
contemporary Republican Party is a party of medieval romanticism. Its
disquisitions on when the human person begins are theological in
character and rooted in assumptions even a lot of medievals would have
questioned. Its faith that bankers would never steal from us and so do
not need to be regulated is a form of mysticism that medievals would
have applied to saints. And its fascination with arbitrary arrest and
imprisonment and with torture more recalls the star chambers of yore
than the deliberations at Philadelphia over 200 years ago.

Let us listen not to John Boehner of Ohio but to a Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson:

' "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by
man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its
constitution." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408,
Papers 15:269 '

Or here is John Adams:

"Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty." - John Adams (1774)

Republicans oppose not only jury trials but even habeas corpus for the
prisoners at Guantanamo (the right to apply to a court judge to be
produced in court so that the authorities are forced to justify the
prisoner's imprisonment). They do so on supposed national security
grounds, just as the British kings used to. In fact, of course, these
prisoners have no fresh information on plots and cannot possibly know
anything of value to any contemporary terrorists at large, since they
have been sequestered for so many years.

Here is what Thomas Jefferson had to say about the suspension of rights such as habeas corpus on national security grounds:

' "Why suspend the habeas corpus in insurrections and rebellions? The
parties who may be arrested may be charged instantly with a well
defined crime; of course, the judge will remand them. If the public
safety requires that the government should have a man imprisoned on
less probable testimony in those than in other emergencies, let him be
taken and tried, retaken and retried, while the necessity continues,
only giving him redress against the government for damages. Examine the
history of England. See how few of the cases of the suspension of the
habeas corpus law have been worthy of that suspension. They have been
either real treasons, wherein the parties might as well have been
charged at once, or sham plots, where it was shameful they should ever
have been suspected. Yet for the few cases wherein the suspension of
the habeas corpus has done real good, that operation is now become
habitual and the minds of the nation almost prepared to live under its
constant suspension." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1788. ME
7:97 '

Al-Qaeda number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri mocked
the US that real liberty ". . . is not the freedom of Guantanamo and
Abu Ghraib." The Republican way of dealing with terrorists gave
enormous propaganda tools to al-Qaeda.

Obama just took those
propaganda tools away from the enemy and began the process of repairing
America's reputation and its fidelity to its own ideals.

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© 2023 Juan Cole