Why We Need to Know Why -- Honoring Attorney General Mukasey

Last night in New York City, I had the privilege of presenting former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey with the 2012 Freedom Flame Award, an annual honor bestowed by Frank Gaffney's invaluable Center for Security Policy. In 1995, Judge Mukasey presided at the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman ("the Blind Sheikh") and eleven other jihadists convicted of conspiring to wage a terrorist war against the United States -- a war that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a subsequent plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. I was the lead prosecutor on the case.

It is not often enough that I get to salute not one but two of my favorite people. But tonight, I want to embrace that opportunity.

There is no one in America who fights more relentlessly, passionately, and effectively in the cause of freedom than Frank Gaffney. Do you care about liberty, and about the defining principles of the West -- equality, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, peace through the strength of both our culture and our armed forces? If you do, you owe a great debt of gratitude to Frank, and to the bulwark he has made of the Center for Security Policy.

We don’t say “thank you” nearly often enough. So tonight, I want to make sure that we all say “thank you” for all Frank does for our country. Frank, we can never repay you, but we honor you, and we are forever grateful for your patriotism.

Next, I’d like to say a few words about my friend Michael Mukasey, who will always be Judge Mukasey to me -- not just because that is how I first came to know him, but because he remains the model of what we want our judges to be.

When it comes to the notion of treating international terrorism -- violent jihadism -- as a law enforcement matter, there are many bad things that can be said. I know, because I’ve said all of them.  And I’ve evidently said them so notoriously that, just last week, the thoughtful progressives at Salon magazine anointed me the leader of the alleged “Islamophobe” faction of the American conservative movement.

You can really tell that our movement badly needs an “Arab Spring.” Not only do we not have one of those nice sharia constitutions that the State Department writes for all its favorite new, er, “democracies” -- those shining cities on a hill where people are put on capital trial for what they think and what they say. We "Islamophobes" haven’t even had a popular election.

You can tell we haven’t had an election because -- despite the fact that Salon claims the “Islamophobes” include such luminaries as John Bolton, Michele Bachmann, and,  yes, Frank Gaffney -- somehow, I’ve ended up in charge. Some leader, right? The Obama administration has been quick to point out that even those lovable, “largely secular” moderates from the Muslim Brotherhood now have more democratic legitimacy than I do!

But let’s go back to the matter of treating the jihad against America as a crime problem rather than a national defense challenge. There is one very good argument in favor of using the courts -- a hugely significant argument. It is this: Juries represent the common sense and the values of American life.

William F. Buckley Jr., the legendary pioneer of the modern conservative movement and founder of National Review, famously said he’d “rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

Well, now that we’ve spent nearly four years being governed by the faculty of Harvard University, we can see that the pioneer has been vindicated, yet again.

We can also see that the American people would be a lot better protected if national security were designed by the twelve New Yorkers who sat in Michael Mukasey’s courtroom for nine months than by, say, an intelligence community that thinks reaching out to Taliban “moderates” is the way to fix Afghanistan; or by a Justice Department that thinks reaching out to Muslim Brotherhood “moderates” is the way to fix American counterterrorism; or by a military brass that can’t see its way to a single mention of the words “jihad” or “Islam” in its 75-page report on the Fort Hood massacre -- the worst terrorist atrocity in this country since 9/11, a mass-murder that claimed the lives of twice as many Americans as were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

A remarkable thing about juries -- something that shouldn’t be remarkable, but is -- is that they tend to take their oath very seriously. They do not decide cases based on bigotry or hysteria. They decide cases based only on the evidence, and with fidelity to the law as the judge explains it to them.

Another remarkable unremarkable thing is that jurors, being ordinary Americans, tend to be rational. Juries will not convict people of serious crimes absent being convinced that they really did what they are accused of doing. That means a prosecutor has to be able to prove not only what a defendant has done, but why he has done it.

No narrative is complete, compelling, or true unless we learn a person’s motivation for the things he has done. And no national security strategy can be competent or successful unless we learn what motivates our enemies to act -- not so we can understand them better, as if this were some pedantic sociology project. We need to know what motivates our enemies so we can stop them, discredit them, and defeat them.

As you’ve heard, in the early-to-mid 1990s, I had the privilege of leading the government’s prosecution against the Blind Sheikh -- the terrorism case tried by Judge Mukasey. Back in those days, much like today, we had administration spokesmen, Justice Department lawyers, and intelligence community officials spouting the CAIR-certified, Muslim Brotherhood-approved, Idiot’s Guide to Islam: “Religion of Peace,” period, full stop, end of story.

But there is a big difference between then and now. Back in 1995, no matter what was being said in Washington, in the academy, or in the media, a trial was still a trial. There was no jihad against information.

In the four corners of Judge Mukasey’s courtroom, it was not only permitted but required to tell the truth. We got to prove that there were commands to warfare against non-Muslims in Islamic scripture; that those commands were accurately conveyed by renowned scholars of Islam; and that believing Muslims were animated to commit atrocious acts under this profound influence.

Don’t get me wrong. No one believed or suggested that Islamic supremacism was the only interpretation of Islam. Nor did anyone contend that all Muslims wanted to live under, much less impose, a fundamentalist construction of sharia -- Islam’s totalitarian framework for society. Indeed, our case could not have been proved had it not been for the pro-American patriotism of a number of Muslims who helped us infiltrate the terror cells and present a convincing case to the jury.

But it is simply a fact that we have enemies who seek to destroy the West. They are catalyzed by an ideology that is knowable. That ideology, Islamic supremacism, is derived from an interpretation of Islam that is a lot more mainstream than we would like to believe. In point of fact, it is the dominant Islam of the Middle East.

I always think the simplest way to look at it is to look at the Blind Sheikh himself. Omar Abdel Rahman was utterly incapable of performing any forcible action that would be useful to a terrorist organization. Blind from childhood and beset by various other maladies, he could not build a bomb, hijack a plane, plant an IED, or carry out an assassination. Yet, he wasn’t just in the terrorist organization; he was its unquestioned leader. And unlike the imaginary “Islamophobe” faction of the American conservative movement that I supposedly lead, this was an organization that actually exists.

What qualified the Blind Sheikh to be the leader? I assure you, it wasn’t charisma and good looks. The Blind Sheikh is a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the center of Sunni Islamic learning since the 10th Century. He is a globally recognized authority on sharia. He was able to lead our enemies because he was, indisputably, a master of their ideology.

In 1995, we were able to prove that in a court of law, solely because we had a judge who was dedicated to the rule of law -- a judge who was determined that the case would be decided based not on fear or favor, but based on the facts, wherever they took us.

Judge Mukasey understood the law, and he understood that what makes America exceptional is Americans. He knew that a jury of New Yorkers, in their American sense of justice, would want to know not only what happened, but why. He knew that this was not only what common sense required, but what American law demanded.

Because of that, we not only have a dozen jihadists who were quite deservedly convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. We also have what remains the most comprehensive and accurate historical record of who our enemies are, what they want to do to us, and why.

That should not be the case. Obviously, all of us who were involved in the Blind Sheikh trial are proud to have played our parts in our nation’s response when the global jihad first turned its attention to our homeland. But let’s face it, almost 20 years have gone by. Yes, that means I look worse. But with two additional decades to gather intelligence and study our enemies, our country’s security should look a lot better.

It doesn’t. Today, we still face enemies who want to destroy us, but they are aided and abetted by people in and out of government who throw sand in our eyes: who want you to believe that the real threat to America comes not from Islamic supremacism, but from the people who are trying to expose Islamic supremacism -- to alert their fellow Americans to the dangers imperiling our way of life.

Some of these people are well-meaning but foolish. Some of them, though, know exactly what they are doing. While they don’t endorse terrorist methods, they do sympathize with the Islamist indictment against the United States -- the old “blame America first” crowd that lays all the world’s ills at our doorstep. Except ... it is not just the “blame America first” crowd. They’re on the political Left. The effort to blind us to the threat, to slander as “Islamophobia” the advocacy of sound national security measures and the protection of Western institutions, has spread its tentacles into conservative circles as well.

National security should not be a conservative or liberal issue. Preserving our liberties ought to be a priority for the vast majority of Americans. Protecting our constitutional norms from sharia incursions ought to be a non-partisan imperative.

Judge Mukasey has served America that way for his entire career. It is the light that he carried with him from the federal bench to the Justice Department, where his tenure as Attorney General was distinguished, honorable, and altogether too short.

But though it is always possible that I’m being parochial, I will always see his greatest contribution to our national security -- yesterday, today and tomorrow -- this way: By following the law faithfully, he ensured that history would fairly and accurately record the ideology of our enemies -- not only what they did, but why they did it. Neither political correctness nor willful blindness can efface that record.

As his admiring friend, and as a proud past recipient of this award, it is my great pleasure and privilege to introduce our 2012 Freedom Flame honoree, Attorney General Michael Mukasey.