More than a decade after he evacuated his own midtown office in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, Kenneth Roth traveled to Guantanamo Bay to watch the arraignment of five accused co-conspirators. His reaction? “I couldn’t help but feel cheated.”
When the five men were arraigned on Saturday before a military tribunal, Roth writes in a New York Times op-ed, they were facing prosecution before a type of military commission that “may be ‘new and improved’ from earlier versions, but they are still rigged against the defendants.”
Not only are the 9/11 defendants deprived of fairness protections they would be afforded in a civilian court, Roth writes with detail, but there are major international implications too:
“Their proponents think that military commissions are the tough way to combat terrorism, but they are really a gift to terrorist recruiters. If a conviction is tainted by unfairness and the defendants are railroaded to death, it would generate outrage. Most people would simply grind their teeth and move on, but a small number would be driven into the grasp of Al Qaeda and its successors. And, as we sadly know, it doesn’t take many angry people to launch a horrible terrorist act.”
On Saturday, accused 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his co-defendants declined to cooperate at their arraignment hearing. The headline for a New York Times news article declared, “9/11 Defendants Were Protesting ‘Unjust System’ at Hearing, Lawyers Say.”
The proceedings, which could lead in the future to a trial of the defendants, were being closely watched. “It’s the most important tribunal in American history since Nuremberg, and if this is how it begins I dread to think of how it will end,” wrote legal analyst Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic.