Volume 22, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 27 - December 3, 2009
Fear the terror trials — that’ll make us safer
By David Stanke
We have done this before, between 1994 and 1996. Terrorists were convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The sensationalist outpourings tossed around concerning the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed miss the only two important considerations: 1) can our legal system bring terrorists to justice and 2) will the trials endanger us or make us safer? The first answer we know. The terrorists were convicted. Our system works. The second question is more interesting. Public trials of terrorists in civil courts make us safer through the most unusual of mechanisms. Fear makes us alert. Alertness makes us safer.
How do you feel about the man who created, funded and guided the plot that destroyed the W.T.C., killed 3,000 people, and cost this country hundreds of billions of dollars? The emotions are almost too complex to describe. I would be happy to put these feelings behind me. Can reopening this chapter be good?
How will I feel about a motorcade taking K.S.M. to and from his trial, just a few blocks from the W.T.C. site and the condo that cost me four years to put back together? It doesn’t matter. This is a time to isolate our fears and abide by the discipline of the systems forged through centuries of learning and experience. In time of war, soldiers are aware of the dangers and must feel fear. But they have the discipline and pride to perform despite that fear. Fear makes them alert but does not paralyze them. When civilians are military targets, we civilians must accept the responsibility of soldiers.
These trials will evoke fear. They will expose us to the rhetoric of people who hate us and want to kill us. They will replay a day that terrifies us. They will bring a heavy presence of security personnel and the possibility of retribution. But this fear is entirely reasonable. Fear is the anxiety aroused by impending danger. If the danger is real, the fear is valid and useful. Being rational about what we fear and disciplined in how we respond is the challenge.
Fear converts every person in this country into a branch of our intelligence department, making large terrorist acts more difficult. People on Flight 93 were afraid and understood their reality. They took charge of their situation, saved people on the ground and perhaps, came close to saving themselves. Fear of real dangers makes us stronger.
The spin machines, especially the conservatives, find rationalizations to not hold these trials. They are afraid that their political position will be weakened, so they spread unreal fears. Why should we be afraid of exposing the mistreatment of prisoners? It has already been exposed. What does our intelligence have to hide? As of 9/11/2001, apparently, not very much. These trials may embarrass some, but even that embarrassment may make us safer.
Will the trials help terrorists recruit followers? Rotten governments, hopeless poverty, oil billionaires, political suppression, poor education, and foreign occupations contribute to recruitment. The ranting of a man in handcuffs in a Manhattan courtroom is not the problem.
Rudy Giuliani is an expert at using fear to manipulate us. Walking through the contaminated ashes of the W.T.C. and piles of human remains, he told us to go on with life; to be brave. Now he wants us to cower about men in chains with a police escort? Senators from Texas who have never seen a terrorist attack talk like they want to defend us from this danger? And the conservative talking heads, to whom we are the liberal, educated elite, too wimpy to fight the war on terror, are telling us we should be afraid of a simple trial. The paradoxes are endless.
I am concerned about the trial in Lower Manhattan. I am afraid that we will be caught with our pants down. Will K.S.M. see the scant progress at the W.T.C.? Will Deutsche Bank still be standing? Will this reinforce New York as the terrorist target that just keeps on giving?
Terrorists attacked us because they believed that we were weak. Does our society lose discipline under attack? Half of the W.T.C. is a memorial celebrating ruins. Billions of dollars have been spent and there is no money left to rebuild the site? Parties responsible for the site battle over control? Our army violated years of prisoner of war treaties and we unleashed our foreign intelligence agencies on a worldwide rampage? I am not afraid of terrorists seeing these things. I am afraid simply because they happened.
Our conservative brethren are excellent with inspiring rhetoric in support of their causes. Why can we not do the same to support the use of our constitution, our legal system, and our professional agencies to capture, convict and rid ourselves of terrorists. Why can’t we talk about our heroes bravely taking the battle to our enemies in a Lower Manhattan courtroom? Let’s bring these evildoers to justice. Let’s show them our determination, our resiliency, our bravery and the best of our civilization. We can win without stooping to their sneaky, hateful, and deceitful ways. We can bring these criminals to justice and we can make ourselves stronger by doing it. “Let’s roll.”
David Stanke lives and writes Downtown. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.