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K.S.M. in N.Y.C.

I just participated in a telephone conference call held by the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining why the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, in a federal court is a good plan in terms of national security and public relations. John B. Bellinger III, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and ...

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I just participated in a telephone conference call held by the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining why the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, in a federal court is a good plan in terms of national security and public relations.

John B. Bellinger III, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former Bush administration advisor, downplayed security concerns, and instead emphasized the importance of a fair trial, best served by a civilian setting.

Bellinger also stressed that he does not think the debate between using federal courts versus military commissions is one that can be answered — and that the government should go on a case-by-case basis. “As with everything in the detainee debate, people tend to make it look like it is black or white,” he said.

For K.S.M., against whom there is plenty of evidence (as with Timothy McVeigh and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman), Bellinger supports the use of the federal justice system. On the other hand, he said it is difficult to imagine anything but military commissions in the case of certain crimes committed abroad and by actors captured by soldiers also off U.S. soil, such as alleged militants “pulled out of caves in Tora Bora.”

Steven Simon, also a CFR fellow, argued that while justice might be equally served by both systems, the U.S. will be fostering vital public relations by holding the trial in a federal court. He said trying K.S.M. in New York might have a similar impact as the Nuremburg Trials against the Nazis. “Whether this will have an effect and how big the effect will be remains to be seen. We know that the election of Barack Obama was greeted with some enthusiasm as a sign of change and a break with the past,” he said. “The trial of K.S.M. could draw a similar bright line.”

Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images

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