The title of the article speaks a lot. The long expected trial against five suspects for the 9-11 attacks, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, is about to begin. Expectations are very high for a successful outcome. But will the principles of international law be respected, or they will be sacrificed for the sake of said success?
After so many years of preparations, the prosecutors are ready to press charges at long last. The five suspects for the terrorist attacks are going to face the death penalty if they are found guilty. The public opinion has decided a long time ago if this sentence is just. And that is understandable - after all, we are talking about monstrous atrocities with no parallel in modern history.
But what really distinguishes this trial is the high stakes in it. We are not just talking about justice prevailing... we are talking about the question if there will be a trial that corresponds to all international judiciary standards. The judges will have to convince the international public that this military tribunal will respect international justice. Which means that confessions extracted through torture shouldn't be taken in consideration. The same applies to second-hand testimony.
Most suspicions in this case are related to the very place where the detainees were kept during these years. And the very place the trial itself will happen. The Guantanamo detention centre has become a heavy baggage for the US governments, a symbol of extraordinary jurisdiction, a special form of justice, created by George W Bush after the 9-11 attacks - deliberately placed beyond the reach of any judicial system existing in the world. And let us not forget that in the first years after its creation Guantanamo was a place of some serious human rights violations.
It has been found that the primary defendant, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had been tortured, including water-boarded. This is why the confession that was extracted from him in 2008 that he was among the perpetrators, has no judiciary value if we are to adhere to the principles of justice. What is more, many of the confessions of the other defendants were later withdrawn. And this is one of the reasons why this trial was delayed for years.
Concerns are that because Obama needs something positive to sell to the voters in this election year, he might press for a conclusion of this trial at any cost, despite the complexities of the situation. First he tried very hard to move the trial to a civil court in New York, but the Congress opposed this. So it will have to happen in Guantanamo, which strictly speaking is not US territory. On the other hand, more than 10 years have passed and a trial like this, whatever it is, sounds much better than still no trial at all.
If it is successful and results in sentences, this could mean yet another big victory for Obama and the war on terror, specifically Al Qaeda. First Bin Laden was found and eliminated, something Bush had failed to do during all that time. Politicised or not, this is a fact that no one can deny. And now if the masterminds of the attacks meet justice, this would be a major moment in the fight against terrorism. It would send a signal that no one is untouchable. And if it is done right, the signal would be even stronger: that terrorism hasn't changed us (like the royal "us") and "we" are still capable of doing things in accordance with the principles of the rule of law.
That is all a US president, or any president, could provide. More cannot be required. Create conditions for justice to do its job properly. Meanwhile, 56% of the polled Americans define Obama's anti-terror policies as successful. In any case this is a much more favourable assessment than the one he is getting for his economic policies. Maybe he could emphasise on this and sell it as his strongest trump card on the coming election. And it promises to be tough for him.
As for Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and his gang, I have no doubt they will hang, one way or another. Exactly in what way they will hang, may still be important for some people, myself included - but I am afraid that is irrelevant on a larger scale.