In light of the conservative meltdown over the Obama administration’s decision to bring the 9/11 plotters to trial in New York, I think it’s worth revisiting this October 2007 Colin Powell interview, in which the retired four-star general and former Secretary of State said that one of the best ways for the United States to combat global extremism was to “show the world a face of openness and what a democratic system can do.”
That’s why I want to see Guantánamo closed. It’s so harmful to what we stand for. We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place. What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We are paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember.
You can drive up the road from here and come to a spot where there is a megachurch over here, a little Episcopal church over there, a Catholic church around the corner that’s almost cathedral-size, and between them is a huge Hindu temple. There are no police needed to guard any of this. There are not many places in the world where you would see that. Yes, there are a few dangerous nuts in Brooklyn and New Jersey who want to blow up Kennedy Airport and Fort Dix. These are dangerous criminals, and we must deal with them. But come on, this is not a threat to our survival! The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves, and we shouldn’t use fear for political purposes — scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.
Today in the Weekly Standard, one of the key organs of the terror-industrial complex, former Bush administration official Michael Anton exemplified this mindset. “The odds are of course against KSM winning an acquittal, though one never knows,” Anton wrote. “But that is not the point.”
The point is that our civilian justice system is designed to do specific things, and to try non-citizen enemy combatants who make war on this country and slaughter innocent civilians is not one of them. Now that system will be used for what will likely be a months-long propaganda circus that will make a mockery of our principles and broadcast a message of weakness and pusillanimity to terrorists, their fellow travelers, and intellectual mentors around the world. Even if the U.S. government ends up winning the legal case, we all lose. And the reversion to a federal court trial will, along with other actions of the current administration, conspire to lull the American public into the view that we’re not really at war.
The indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay has itself been a years-long propaganda circus that did make a mockery of our principles and broadcast a message of weakness and pusillanimity to terrorists, their fellow travelers, and intellectual mentors around the world. As Powell noted more than two years ago, correcting the Bush administration’s tragic error in opening the Guantanamo facility in the first place is essential to re-establishing American credibility on the rule of law. That credibility an important force multiplier in U.S. attempts to combat global extremism. As Gen. David Petraeus said in his statement of support for closing Guantanamo Bay prison, “We ought to live our values.”