Thomas Sowell

While much attention has been focussed on the trial of American Taliban John Walker Lindh, another trial halfway around the world may be more relevant to our own future. This was the trial in Pakistan of terrorists who killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The killers were convicted and sentenced to death, after which one of them said: "We'll see who will die first, me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me."

Those who are preoccupied with whether such cutthroats are comfy in Guantanamo might spare a few moments to consider what it would mean if the American criminal justice system has to put international terrorists on trial. First of all, the killers of Daniel Pearl would never have been convicted here as soon as they have been in Pakistan, much less be executed as soon as they are likely to be in Pakistan.

The terrorist threat to the court that convicted them is nothing new, though its implications for future trials of future terrorists here are chilling. There was already a foretaste of the problems when the original World Trade Center bombers of 1993 were tried under extraordinary security, precisely because of the risk of terrorist retaliation against judge, jury and prosecutors.

How many judges, juries and prosecutors will be able to stand up to threats to themselves and their families from terrorist networks with a record of ruthlessness and a long trail of blood? Why should they even have to operate under such pressures?

Do we really want these organized bands of international murderers tried under our criminal justice system, with all its elaborate technicalities and interminable delays? Do we want to have these homicidal fanatics using our courtrooms as propaganda forums, with their lawyers spouting off on talk shows day in and day out, putting the survivors of their victims through additional anguish?

More important than that, was our criminal justice system ever designed for what are essentially enemy troops? We never threw open our courtroom doors to captured Nazi prisoners of war in World War II, much less give them access to our press.

The fact that current terrorists are enemy troops without uniforms means that they are entitled to even less protection than the uniformed troops covered by the Geneva Convention. None of the rights established by that convention apply to combatants out of uniform, who have long been summarily shot.

Objections are sure to be made by those in our country who have no conception of the realities of war, as well as by hand-wringers who mistake their own squeamishness for higher morality, rather than reckless irresponsibility that can cost fellow Americans their lives.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate