Paul Greenberg

Why is the Obama administration transferring Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who proudly proclaims himself the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, to a federal district court in New York? Has the defendant tired of the tropical breezes at Guantanamo? Would a change of scenery to the urban reaches of lower Manhattan improve his spirits? Or just those of a new administration bent on change if only for change's sake?

Why transfer this all too well-known defendant and four of his closest associates from military to civilian jurisdiction? It has to be for some reason other than assuring swift and sure justice -- the kind that American military commissions have been providing since they were invented by George Washington.

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The transfer certainly is not motivated by security concerns. For this trial in a civilian court, like previous ones, will require extraordinary measures to protect the judges, prosecutors and witnesses.

Details about the sources and techniques of American intelligence, let alone those of our allies who cooperated in the capture of these much wanted men, will become fair game in open court.

Information that terrorists find useful can be revealed inadvertently during such a trial. For example, in the course of the trial of those who first bombed the World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden learned that he was considered a co-conspirator, and promptly moved his base of operations from Sudan to the remote mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan. What valuable intelligence will our enemies glean from the open proceedings now scheduled for New York?

Once the terrorists get to trial, delays and extensions are sure to be sought -- even before the highly likely appeals. Complications unimagined are bound to arise. The legal games have only begun. By the time they end, after all the folderol of a show trial, justice may be reduced to an afterthought, if that.

Are we in for another judicial farce like the years-long spectacle starring Zacarias Moussaoui? The trial of that even-stranger-than-usual terrorist finally ended with his escaping the death penalty. Although not before many a bizarre twist, turn, delay and legalistic confabulation threatened to derail it.

To quote Mr. Moussaoui's own, not entirely unjustified reaction on going off to do life without parole at a maximum-security prison in the Rockies: "America, you lost, I won!" At last report this convicted terrorist remains in good health, at least physically. And not much more deranged than anyone else whose life's ambition is mass murder.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.