Were the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, the result of criminal action or an act of war?
Nomenclature matters because it shapes peoples ideas, thought processes and, thereby, actions.
Nine days after the attack, President George Bush laid out his view of the attack in no uncertain terms: "On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country," he said to a joint session of Congress.
In contrast, the current administration has determined that we are no longer engaged in a war on terror, and that those who were involved in Sept. 11, 2001, should be tried in a civilian court.
"The president does not describe this as a 'war on terrorism,'" John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office, told The Washington Times in August. Brennan said the administration was using the phrase "at war with al-Qaida."
The scope of the war has been narrowed by the current administration.
Our enemies might not care how we define this conflict. But our nation should care, because that definition helps determine our strategy moving forward. It affects our military strategy as well as the political, economic and communication strategies necessary to win.
The Obama administration's attorney general has determined that those who allegedly committed the act of war against our country should be tried in New York City in federal court. "The Department of Justice will pursue prosecution in federal court of the five individuals accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks," announced Attorney General Eric Holder last week.
This prosecution involves Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other detainees at Guantanamo who have been charged before military commissions with helping plan the attacks: Walid Muhammed Salih, Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi. These men were caught and investigated based on the trial being held in a military tribunal.
Why does this matter? Because prosecutors follow different procedures based on where the trial is to be brought. In addition, this approach might possibly lay bare classified sources and methods of our national security community.