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Commentary: Trying any terrorist in U.S is very dangerous

The Obama administration has chosen the wrong New York venue to try five co-conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Instead of a Manhattan courtroom less than a mile from the site of where the World Trade Center stood, the government should have chosen the Bronx Zoo, because a zoo is what will be created when this terrorist trial is held.

In announcing the decision to try in a civilian court these "enemy combatants," as the Bush administration rightly described them, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "For over 200 years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims. Once again we will ask our legal system to rise to that challenge, and I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice."

I'm not.

The administration's first mistake is to label these men "criminals," as if a terrorist attack and the announced objective of forcibly "Islamisizing" America were the same as robbing a bank. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were an act of war, as much as if a nation-state had attacked us. Trials should not be held for war criminals until the war has been won.

House Minority Leader John Boehner correctly called civilian trials a victory for liberal special-interest groups, which put those groups' interests "before the safety and security of the American people." Boehner added, "The possibility that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators could be found 'not guilty' due to some legal technicality just blocks from Ground Zero should give every American pause."

The trial could also serve as a venue for trying the Bush administration and second-guessing decisions that kept America safe after 9/11. Secrets might be revealed that could be used by terrorists to harm us again. And if the terrorists must have a jury of their peers, does that mean fellow Muslims might be included? Could that end in a hung jury or a mistrial?

Attorney General Holder assures us that conviction of the "criminals" is a virtual certainty. Anyone who follows our quirky court system knows that innocent people are in prison and murderers walk the streets. It is anything but a foregone conclusion that these men will be convicted, but it is likely that damage will be done to the United States, which is the primary objective of the terrorists.

What do we hope to accomplish by trying these mass murderers on U.S. soil?

This trial will be broadcast worldwide. It will show America's enemies, not the "fairness" of our justice system, but a group of men who can stand up to "the great Satan" and shake their fists in our face. It will also serve as a recruiting video for future terrorists because it will demonstrate what, to them, is weakness. A strong nation would have tried these men in the military tribunals Congress authorized for that purpose. A weak nation imputes rights to noncitizens who want to do away with the very rights we are now going to afford them.

You don't need an imagination to predict that crazies will show up at this trial, including Islamic terrorists in training who want to emulate the acts of the defendants. Some might be "inspired" to create another event at or near the courthouse. Cable TV will carry it all.

What if the terrorists are acquitted? Who will take the blame? It won't be President Obama. Because of numerous motions, the trial will likely be delayed for three to five years. Obama will either be out of office or into a second term by then.

For those who believe this is a very bad decision with little upside for America, the best we might hope for is that the judge is a Jewish woman. That would be sweet revenge for these misogynist anti-Semites.

Cal Thomas' e-mail address is

I saw the other day that George W. Bush is raising money for his proposed policy institute at Southern Methodist University. I did some research and found out that there are something like 3,000 policy institutes, most of them hosting convocations about nothing much and issuing papers no one reads. I suggest therefore that Bush use his money to do something truly different and constructive -- establish the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. My check is in the mail.

This is Palin Week -- days of interviews relating to the publication of her book, "Going Rogue." She will appear virtually everywhere, making her usual good impression, and there will be more talk about how she might run for president. Someone will point out that she is even scheduled to soon go to Iowa -- and you know what that means.

On the other hand, someone else will point out that the very week Palin is promoting her book, the current president is abroad attending meetings in Asia, including a visit with our Chinese bankers. Could those who fault Barack Obama for being callow and inexperienced imagine Palin meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan? As for Pakistan, South Korea, North Korea, the Middle East and, of course, the perplexing Georgian-Abkhazian conflict -- I don't think she is quite up to it all, some of those nations not being close to Alaska at all.

This being the case, the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin should look into how she was chosen by John McCain as his vice presidential running mate -- and why McCain, given absolute proof of abominable judgment and the sort of sorry political opportunism he built a career decrying, has not repaired to a monastery and taken a vow of absolute silence since almost anything he has to say post-Palin has to be judged by his choice of her.

A further area of study ought to deal with the mindset of McCain's former campaign aides who continue to criticize Palin for not turning out to be the mute puppet they had so hoped she would be. That she went rogue I have no doubt -- but this was only after they went stupid and helped pick her in the first place. They live in political ignominy for not resigning from the campaign when it counted.

The Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin might conclude that she represents the exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy. She was clearly seen as an empty vessel who could be controlled by her intellectual betters. These include the editorial boards of The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal, neither one of which would hire Palin to make an editorial judgment but would be thrilled to see her as president of the United States. It does not bother these people in the least that the woman is a demagogue -- remember "death panels"? -- and not, on the face of it, very responsible. If she quit as governor of Alaska in the noble pursuit of money, might she quit as, say, vice president or president for the same reason? From what I hear, one can never be too rich.

I suppose, too, that the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin would issue oodles of papers on our celebrity age and how she, after all, is just another one. Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime. This is essential, for we are a vast country without much industry and so we rely on the production of fame, which is what we now do best -- cars and steel and 20 Mule Team Borax being a distant memory.

Finally, the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin will mull what she represents. She has a phenomenal favorability rating among Republicans -- 76 percent -- who have a quite irrational belief that she would not make such a bad president. What they mean is that she will act out their resentments -- take an ax to the people and institutions they hate. The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane vile and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.

It may be asking too much of Bush to put his money into something useful instead of the standard presidential monument of self-aggrandizement. This, though, is his chance: study Sarah Palin. If she's a comer, then we're all a goner.

Richard Cohen's e-mail address is