Secondly, my former defendant the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, got all the due process and rule of law that our system is capable of displaying during the 9-month civilian trial we gave him in 1995 and the 3-year appellate process that followed. How has that helped us with shaping attitudes in Muslim countries about al-Qaeda and about the Blind Sheik himself? Muslim populations care only that we are detaining him — they couldn’t care less how much due process he got or whether he is being held in a civilian prison or Gitmo. He is a hero for making war against us, and Egypt — very much including its new president from the Muslim Brotherhood — is demanding his return. Moreover, in the years after the Blind Sheik was convicted, al-Qaeda enjoyed wild popularity among Middle Eastern Muslims, who reveled in bin Laden’s attacks against us, many taking to the streets to celebrate. In a 2008 interview, the Muslim Brotherhood’s then-supreme guide, Muhammad Mahdi Akef, opined that bin Laden himself should be revered as a “mujahid” — a term of honor for a warrior in Allah’s cause — and that, while the Brotherhood did not always agree with his targets, bin Laden was “close to Allah on high” when it came to resisting “the occupiers” — by which he meant … us.
Finally, even if we ignore the fact that military commissions are the time-honored way of dealing with war crimes and that Congress has endorsed them multiple times, the main reasons we use them are to protect classified information and to avoid unnecessarily rewarding the worst savages with the gold-plated civilian due process that is designed for American citizens — a benefit that perversely incentivizes them to persist in their atrocities. In bin Laden’s case, a civilian trial’s due process rules would have required the revelation of more classified information and sources than any terrorism case in history. Plus, he was the very worst of the worst — if you are going to have military commissions for war crimes at all, he is the textbook case.
Personally, I’m confident the president is lying. I don’t believe there was any way he’d have announced a civilian trial for the likes of bin Laden … at least until after the election.