In the wake of today’s Justice Department decision to bring accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York to stand trial in a criminal court, I interviewed former congressman Tom Andrews, director of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo. Andrews argued that the KSM decision is a vital step toward final closure of the Cuba based prison, and that Obama’s harshest critics — who were silent when the previous president brought 195 terror suspects to justice in the United States — are practicing the worst kind of partisan fearmongering.
RS.com What have you made of the outcry from folks like Joe Lieberman and Rudy Giuliani?
TA The right-wing attack machine is out in full force as predicted. One: They are going to hope that the same tactic that got us into Iraq is going to keep us at Guantanamo, and that is fear. Two: They are going to count on ignorance. That Americans are simply unaware of the fact that we’ve had 195 convictions of suspected terrorists in U.S. courts since 2001. The terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 were tried and convicted in U.S. courts and are now locked away in a federal supermax prison. The harshest critics — the ones who are braying the loudest that the sky is going to fall and Americans are all in danger — were totally silent when terrorist suspects were brought to trial in the United States by the Bush administration. You heard no outcry from Senator McConnell or Senator Lieberman when Bush did it. That’s the very definition of hypocrisy.
RollingStone.com Where does this decision put us in the broader scope of being able to close Guantanamo?
Tom Andrews This gets us a step closer. But there are still many steps to take. The attorney general today indicated that he was doubtful that the administration would meet the self-appointed deadline of the 22nd of January. But the fact that the president has committed himself to closing the facility, and bringing KSM to trail is, I think, an indication that the glass is half full.
RS.com Why have you been so vocal that KSM and his co-conspirators be tried in criminal court?
TA It’s important that we do not elevate these mass murderers into warriors and martyrs, which is exactly what they want. It’s also not in our interest to denigrate our system of criminal justice—the very bedrock of this country. If you are accused, you get to know what you know what you are accused of, you get to face your accusers, and you get to defend yourself in court, and then you face a trial and a conviction. This is who we are as a system. The Taliban? You can get a trial and a beheading in a few hours. That’s not our system of justice. But the Guantanamo Bay prison facility has made a mockery of that. It has put a great stain on this country.
RS.com What does this decision signal about the kind of case that Holder & Co. were able to build against KSM — not withstanding the damage that waterboarding him 183 times did the integrity the judicial process.
TA Well, it’s a good question. And the attorney general today said that he was very, very confident that will get a conviction with what they have. They said they have information that has not become public up to this point. This is another reason why Guantanamo Bay has been such a problem. The abuses that occurred there under the Bush/Cheney administration has been making prosecution that much harder. Not only did they create a major recruiting tool for Al Queda and for Jihadists world-wide, they made it harder to prosecute and put away terrorists. So, it is a double-whammy on our system of justice and an asset—a double asset—for the very people who need to be behind bars forever.