Dear Mr. Editor:
I recently had the trying experience of reading former Attorney General Michael Mukasey's op-ed in your publication on Monday October 19, 2009. To be honest, I expect better from both Mr. Mukasey and your newspaper.
Mr. Mukasey's overall thesis seems to be that we should not try terrorists, specifically those held at Guantanamo, in United States civilian courts because it's hard and we did it in the 1990s and that led to 9/11. Mr. Mukasey uses flimsy examples to back this thesis and leaves the reader wondering how any connection between civilian trials for terrorists led, in any minute way, to the horror this country experienced on September 11, 2001.
One danger Mr. Mukasey points out is the proselytization of individuals behind bars, insinuating that if we do not try terrorists apprehended overseas in civilian courts, the problem will somehow be diminished. As a former Attorney General, Mr. Mukasey should be very familiar with the prison system. To suggest that the type of radical proselytizing he so fears is not occurring currently and will somehow be managed if we do not try terrorists in our own courts is ludicrous. A periphery look at the prison gang system alone tells us that proselytization behind bars is an established institution that will not be effected by the current administration's policy on where to try suspected terrorists.
Then comes Mr. Mukasey's most outrageous statement. He infers that Osama bin Laden did not know that the American government was "aware" of him until he was in possession of the indictment - which listed him as a co-conspirator - stemming from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He additionally calls Mr. bin Laden "relatively obscure." Anyone who is familiar with a man named Ronald Reagan should know about the mujahideen, who Reagan called "freedom fighters." One of these "freedom fighters" was Osama bin Laden, who played a major role in the war (during which he founded Al-Qaeda) and returned to his native Saudi Arabia in 1990 as a hero of jihad. To state that Mr. bin Laden must have believed that he was flying under America's radar until he received that indictment, even as he was publicly criticizing Saudi Arabia for its supposed dependence on our nation's military, involves dishonesty, ignorance, or both.
Mr. Mukasey also points to prison violence as a reason to keep suspected terrorists in off-shore custody and to try them in non-civilian courts. He points to the case of a co-conspirator of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings who committed an egregious act of violence against a Bureau of Prisons guard. Prisons are violent places; people are held against their will for running afoul of the law. To suggest that the act of violence Mr. Mukasey portrayed would not have occurred if the prisoner was held elsewhere seems to be off the mark. These are, after all, people accused of killing innocent people for no good reason; if they did, in fact, commit these heinous acts, what is to stop them from being violent behind bars - whether it is here or abroad?
Finally, Mr. Mukasey seems to take exception to the fact that the death penalty was not utilized in the embassy bombings case and that current Attorney General Eric Holder has taken the death penalty off the table for a sixth embassy bombings suspect. Mr. Mukasey looks past the fact the death penalty may not be a very effective deterrent to a group of individuals whose tactics include blowing themselves up to hurt others. Being held in a prison run by the very government you despise and have vowed to destroy, within the same borders of a country you have detested might be a little more ominous than becoming a martyr by being killed by that very same country to hasten your arrival in whatever twisted afterlife scheme you have been made to believe.
Mr. Mukasey says that in return for trying terrorists in civilian courts in the 1990s, our country got the 9/11 attacks. He does not delve into Middle East instability, the United States' covert war in Afghanistan and the proliferation of weapons in the area, or the lack of addressing the power vacuum instigated by the Afghan Civil War as possible precursors to global terrorist activity. Instead he points to trying terrorists in civilian courts in the U.S. during the 1990s as THE reason for 9/11. His op-ed was insulting to its readers who possess a cursory understanding of global history and should have been vetted better by the editorial board. Thank you for your time.
This letter was sent to the Wall Street Journal Opinion Editors on Monday October 19, 2009, the same day that the Mukasey editorial ran