The trial will afford Mohammed the opportunity to grandstand and make use of his time in front of the world media to rally his disgusting terrorist cohorts. It will also be an insult to the victims of 9/11, as Mohammed will no doubt use the opportunity to spew his hateful rhetoric in the same neighborhood in which he ruthlessly cut down the lives of so many Americans.
Spencer Ackerman has the best response. Preach, brother:
What’s an actual insult to the victims of 9/11 is the idea that America is not strong enough to withstand the blatherings of a mass murderer. For me, the prospect of KSM grandstanding at his trial falls into I-wish-a-motherfucker-would territory. I want to hear how KSM builds a case against America, because everyone will hear how laughably conspiratorial and clownish it is. Think of what a cathartic moment it will be when America sees the face of the man considered to be UBL’s most efficient henchman and he delivers a pitiful harangue to a bank of cameras. No one will be emboldened to do anything but laugh. The only downside will be his inevitable discussion of how CIA operatives tortured him.
My hope for the KSM trial is that it does more than all this. It should forever shatter the pernicious myth that al-Qaeda is composed of supermen—supermen against whom America has no choice but to alter its character and most precious laws in order to confront. I suspect we’ll have an Eichmann-in-Jerusalem moment—and sorry for the unfortunate Nazi/al-Qaeda analogy; al-Qaeda are not the Nazis; but I couldn’t really think of any other parallel—except instead of the banality of evil, we’ll see the lunacy and vanity and self-absorption of it. That’s because al-Qaeda’s weltanshauung depends on a myth that holds America to be implacably determined to snuff out the glory of Islam. In reality, most Americans couldn’t give a fuck about Islam and only started to know the first thing about it because of 9/11. But that America—an America bearing no resemblance to the actual America—will be what KSM seeks to counter-indict. It’s farcical, and farcical in ways that can only benefit the real America.
Spencer doesn’t go far enough on the “farce” angle. The American system of capitalist democracy beat Nazism and communism. Compared to the USSR and Nazi Germany, Al Qaeda is a farce. Its big-picture goals are insanely unrealistic and its conception of the the actual staying power of America is wildly off-base. Breaking news: Al Qaeda is not going to reestablish the Caliphate.
Whenever I doubt the basic craziness of Al Qaeda’s long-term plan, I think back to a photo I saw in 2004 or 2005 of an Iraqi insurgent in Nike gear, and I remember that even the people who are most implacably opposed to the capitalist system can’t escape its reach. Al Qaeda-style Islamism as a political system won’t be able to overcome the things that make global capitalism hum: human beings’ materialism, hedonism, greed, and self-interest. And Al Qaeda-style Islamism as a political system won’t overcome what makes democracy work: human beings’ yearning for a say in how they are governed and for ethnic and national self-determination. An anti-modern theocracy of the kind Al Qaeda wants to establish goes against human nature in the same way that communism did. If you want an example of how well “Islamic society, Al Qaeda-style” works in practice in today’s world, consider what happened in Iraq between 2005 and 2007: Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia tried to establish control over parts of Anbar province, the local people turned against them, and you got the Sunni Awakening. For all Al Qaeda’s talk of how the ummah would join together under its banner, localism and tribalism and self-interest won out in short order.
Al Qaeda can and will kill Americans—more of us if we play into their game and keep turning random Pashtuns and Iraqi Sunnis into accidental guerrillas. But if the Nazis and the Soviets couldn’t take America down, Al Qaeda doesn’t have a chance. The biggest danger that Osama and KSM present to democratic capitalism’s continued existence is the prospect that their terrorism will cause us to destroy ourselves from within. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that so far—torturing people, getting involved in land wars in Asia, getting distracted from our domestic problems. That’s the mistake that the Cheneys of the world make. They think we can’t beat these guys by playing by our rules, that we can’t give the assholes who were responsible for those planes flying into the towers trials like we gave Hermann Goering before sending him to his just desserts, that we have to lower ourselves to their level if we’re going to beat them. That’s nonsense.
Our enemies today don’t have the industrial base of 1940s Germany or the nuclear arsenal of the 1980s Soviet Union. They don’t even have the industrial base of 2001 Afghanistan. They’ve got their Kalashnikovs, their roadside bombs, their cowardice, their stupidity, and their hate. They’re going to lose. And putting KSM on trial—not because we have to, but just because that’s the way we do business—goes a long way towards proving just that.