JoT wrote: "The terrorist attacks were an act of war. They were not a criminal act, and we shouldn't try to achieve justice through courts of law."
Hmmm... What functional difference is there between an "act of war" and a "criminal act"? How does this difference distinguish between how we deal with the terrorists? Regardless of whether these were criminal or war acts we should deal with them through the courts once they are apprehended. If we don't deal with it through a court of law, whether the US courts or the World Court, how do we deal with it?
One could compare 9/11 to Pearl Harbor or the attacks by Germany on other European countries in WWII wherein we went in kicking ass and didn't stop to ascertain formal justice until after we were done dishing it out in real terms. It's interesting though that we used the Nuremberg trials to follow-up the justice by ass-kicking with the semblance of justice by law. We decided to treat war-acts as crimes against humanity. We transformed vigilantism into an international system of justice which the world is still in the process of adopting. It strikes me that you are advocating a return to pre-WWII vigilantism.
JoT wrote: "It is impossible practically by definition for a Western court to provide a fair trial to someone who doesn't believe in Western courts. In what sense would Osama bin Laden acknowledge a guilty verdict as just? He would not, and nor would those who adore him. It would be a travesty to put him on trial, a propaganda play. Government gains its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. Bin Laden doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of Western courts. It makes no sense to treat him as a member of the global community who has broken the community's laws"
I suspect that a high proportion of convicted criminals consider their guilty verdict as unjust. Who cares what they think? Regardless of whether 9/11 was an act of war or just a crime the US needs to treat the perpetrators with the same rights we provide to US citizens.
What would this mean? It means an open process of proving who committed these acts. It means hunting them down mercilessly. It means putting whomever we accuse on trial by our laws or the laws of the World Court.
Why should we do this? Who cares whether Bin Laden and his crew (if they are indeed the ones who committed 9/11) agree that they get a fair trial? The point is to act in a civilized manner as defined by our laws. To do otherwise is to behave as a terrorist, beyond law. We need to put the perpetrators on trial to be consistent with our methods to ascertain truth and administer justice and to satisfy our own justified skepticism of the federal government, military, and intelligence systems.
To date, no evidence has been released to the public (to my knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong) implicating any particular group or individuals. How do we as a country know that we're going after the right people? How do we know the al Qaeda network is not a fabrication of our intelligence and military entities designed to go after whatever bad guys they want and look like they are actually making progress at the same time? It's possible the whole al Qaeda thing is itself a huge propaganda play by the US government. It had a Wag the Dog evolution in the weeks after 9/11. If they are not the right people, the terrorists are still operating freely. Given the utter failure of the US intelligence system to deal with these terrorists this is a valid concern. By following our rule of law in dealing with the terrorists we hold ourselves to a high standard of proof which will force our intelligence and military systems to get their shit together and provide greater security in the future. Letting them get away with a sloppy job now allows them to remain sloppy, making us less secure in the future.
The threat of terrorism against the US is not that they will destroy us. Even if they had a handful of nukes or biologicals they could not destroy the US outright or even significantly harm the infrastructure of the country. The threat of terrorism is that in our reaction to it we forfeit the principles that make us great: tolerance, equality, civil liberties, due process, the rule of liberal law, belief in a better future. If we fail to follow our system of justice we act without integrity. This damages the character of our culture and leaves us less secure.