COMMENTS: Military Justice or Kangaroo Court?

Amid a confused news agenda, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, were the Story of the Day. The Pentagon leveled capital charges against six of its prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The sextet stands accused of terrorist conspiracy but will not undergo criminal prosecution. Instead they will face a military tribunal, where self-incriminating testimony obtained under torture may be admissible against the defendants. CBS led with the 9/11 story. NBC chose an update on the Presidential primary race. ABC took on the banking industry, which is raising credit card rates even as the Federal Reserve Board is lowering the interest the banks themselves have to pay.

The networks had a hard time deciding whether to treat the 9/11 case as a serious prosecution or a show trial. ABC anchor Charles Gibson was incredulous that a fair trial could actually take place: "You always risk a not guilty verdict and they are not going to let these guys be released," he exclaimed to legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg (no link). CBS anchor Katie Couric offered no presumption of innocence to the most famous defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, calling him "the terrorist who dreamed up the murderous plot." However her Pentagon correspondent David Martin did point out that his well-publicized confession--"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z"--came as "he was subjected to waterboarding." NBC's Pentagon man Jim Miklaszewski quoted Col Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, as condemning the tribunal's rules of evidence: "As long as we insist on using evidence that was obtained by waterboarding, a process that most everyone is willing to say constitutes torture, this is just not an American system of justice."

CBS' Martin outlined each of the other defendants' alleged role in the conspiracy: Walid bin Attash is charged with running camps; Ramzi bin al-Shibh with finding pilot schools; abdal-Aziz Ali with wiring funds; Mustafa al-Hawsawi with reclaiming the unspent money; and Mohammed al-Kahtani with attempting to gain entry to the United States to join one of the hijack teams. NBC's Miklaszewski reported that these are the first charges ever to be filed "against anyone accused in the attacks." Not quite. What about Mounir al-Motassadeq in Hamburg and Zacarias Moussaoui in Virginia?


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