Terrorism Trials: Military Commissions

Washington Post Oped on the KSM Arraignment

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, May 4, 2012, 12:52 AM

Wells and I will be at Fort Meade for the KSM arraignment Saturday morning. In the meantime, I have written an oped in the Washington Post setting the stage and discussing the pivotal importance of this trial to the military commissions experiment. It opens:

When Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others are arraigned Saturday in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay on charges of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it will be the public’s first glimpse in several years of the 9/11 mastermind. The event holds the promise of long-delayed justice and will renew debate over the interrogations of the operation’s key planners.But the arraignment represents more than the possibility that we might hear once again from the flamboyant and mesmerizingly evil KSM. It is also likely to serve as a make-or-break test for the military commissions system, a system in which the Obama administration has — despite its initial instincts and ongoing misgivings — invested considerable prestige and energy.

I have sat through every minute of every recent commission hearing, and the system looks nothing like the kangaroo court of human rights groups’ caricatures. The media will no doubt have a field day if KSM makes things unruly Saturday — as he very well might — but any spectacle should not obscure a larger truth about the tribunals in which he and his co-defendants will face trial: Quietly and gradually, the commissions have become a real court.