Commentary Magazine


The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government

About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Several passionate speakers shared the podium, among them close relatives of 9/11 victims and a surviving firefighter from the first-response teams dispatched to the World Trade Center. They all voiced their disgust at how the administration is handling KSM with gloves of moral priggishness. And they also urged the demonstrators to leave no political stone unturned and to buttonhole their representatives until they take responsibility for this disgrace.

It was fitting that the rally stirred at the feet of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, whose Corinthian columns underscore the engraving “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I wonder what George Washington, who wrote those words to Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, 1789, would think of the kind of trial our current president and attorney general have in store for KSM and of the kind of justice that trial will beget. What is anyone to make of a civil trial whose outcome, whatever it is, will not determine whether the defendant is to be freed and exonerated? I, for one, would not think it civil at all, or just. And neither would the protesters on Foley Square today.  Some photographs from the rally: