So I just clicked over to Feministe and found to my surprise a comment thread going utterly nutbar over the question of trying terrorists in the SDNY. It’s full of the usual paeans to the American Constitution (which, Sir John A. Macdonald help me, I will never fully understand, there are tons of things WRONG with the American Constitution, but whatever) and its vaunted protections. These are countered by a bunch of people who apparently both read Feministe and believe George W. Bush showed excellent judgment in the establishment of Guatanamo (riddle me that one, cognitive dissonance).
In any event, I wanted to say this: both these sides seem to me to be overstating things. Even if conducted under the FRE etc., this trial will be a show trial. It is political theatre. There is just about zero chance that a jury or even, if it’s possible to elect a bench trial (and I don’t know, not a criminal lawyer), a judge, will not convict this person.
Now, in fact, all trials are theatre in a sense – thus why the courtroom has proved very fruitful as a source of narrative, and not just in America. (See: Bleak House.) It’s simply that here the climax will not center around the question of whether the accused will be found guilty – he will – but rather whether Americans can sort of retroactively justify the existence of Guantanamo, and pretty much everything that happened over the last eight years, under the arches of the American constitution, with that lady with the scales keeping an eye on the affair.
The answer, of course, is that it might justify itself to some doubting Thomas Americans, because it can retrofit the whole sordid story of the treatment of enemy combatants within the grand narrative of American Justice. But for everyone else: not so much.
I said when this was announced that I considered it a smart move, and I do, but I considered it such only because it’s politically adept. It isn’t, in the least, guaranteed to bring “justice.” It kind of horrifies me how unconcerned most Americans are about Guantanamo and other abuses. I shouldn’t be surprised, but at the level of someone who, at the end of the day cannot entirely give up on abstract justice – well, I am. Because one of the things I always liked about here was the Big Dreams part, the aspiring to greatness. It’s why I can watch the West Wing even though the characters are frequently talking about the US as though no other country understands the realities the way that it does. It’s why I loved last year’s Election Night. It’s why I do sometimes say I’m disappointed in Obama, because I too projected that abstract faith onto him.
But yeah, these show trials (assuming there will be more than the one): they aren’t about doing the right thing, per se. The right thing would have been to no longer have a Guantanamo, to indict Dick Cheney and all the rest. But I’m not holding my breath for anyone to do that.