Gail Collins has always been a favorite columnist of mine. Many years ago she was at New York Newsday. It was a great loss when she left for the NY Times where she was on the Editorial Board and thus having to submerge her voice, and a great pleasure when she returned to being a columnist.
So it's no surprise that I liked her column on the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial, but I also think she's going at something very important without quite going deep enough.
To keep this part of it brief, and for those not following the whole saga very closely, KSM is one of the Al Qaeda masterminds of 9/11. Several months ago, the Obama administration decided to try him in Manhattan at a courthouse in Lower Manhattan not far from the World Trade Center. A lot of people in NYC were "hip hip hooray, we're better than those wimps in Illinois who don't want no stinkin' Guantanamo inmates." Then, we get word of the NYPD plans to secure the trial. Which would turn all of Lower Manhattan below at least Canal Street into a giant prison full of barricades, policeman, road closures, random searches, and the like. Then everyone says it isn't such a good idea, and the US has decided to seek alternate locations.
Gail Collins says, not without some reason, (and I paraphrase) that we need to cowboy up and stop acting like this, where anything goes in the war so long as it doesn't go near us.
But where she doesn't go is where I think we need to go. Our society is so enmeshed in fear, hiding from any risk of terrorist anything, that we're forgetting the whole "who watches the watchmen" part. Some people at least question the TSA about security theatre at airports, in part because it's such an in your face annoyance to the rich and powerful including the politicians who have to fly back and forth to DC. But I've hardly heard anyone in the mainstream, Gail Collins in this column included, questionning the deeper assumption in the KSM trial debate.
Which is, why the heck does hosting this trial require such a deep level of security that Lower Manhattan would have to be turned into a war zone at this level and expense of security, to try this guy? I think that's bullshit. New York is a terrorist target right now today. We're less than a month shy as a write of the 18 month anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. I've been living in a terrorist target for at least 18 years. If we need to have this $200M/year security plan for the KSM trial, then we should have a $500M/year security plan for the entire city that's in effect every single day, because the bad guys will be just as happy to bomb the subway tomorrow as to do it while KSM is on trial.
But everyone is buying into the security plan. The rich real estate interests that won't be able to sell a luxury condo in lower Manhattan in the middle of a war zone aren't lining up at police HQ to say "yo, Commissioner Kelly, come back with a better plan," they're just saying the plan is right and we can't live with it.
I'm torn on the subject.
I want Guantanamo closed. I don't like torture. I don't like lopsided military tribunals. I think America has ideals it should stand for even when they're inconvenient because we need to lead by example and show we're better than the other guys.
And I don't want to live in a police state. I did not want NYC to get the Olympics because that would have been a forced three week vacation while I left the police state behind. When the WorldCon was in Boston in 2004, I headed up a few days early so I could entirely avoid the police state New York City during the Republican National Convention, and I didn't even like my layover in New Haven switching from Metro North to Acela because even there the station was too full of police and police dogs for my enjoyment. I don't like walking around midtown east when the UN General Assembly is in session.
If the only way we can try KSM in Manhattan is to have a police state for the duration, then I'll go with the people saying "thank you, but no." But first, I'd like to go back to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and say "great job, Ray, but that's not the kind of approach we're looking for right now. What else you got for us?"
So I'm kind of ending up in the same place as the people I don't want to be with, though from the exact opposite direction.
Though I'm not at the same places as Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist who likes digging his teeth into Barack Obama like Joshua Bilmes into a slice of Devil's Food Cheesecake from Juniors. He wants for Congress to defund any civilial trial at all for KSM. I think it's a better thing for the US to have him given a good old-fashioned criminal trial somewhere than to say our courts aren't up to the task. And I'd be very happy if we could try him right here in NYC with me living a few miles away, in a way that says we can go about our daily business for the duration. I'm not convinced that we can't do that.