KSM Doesn't Deserve to Be a War Criminal

Treating terrorists like warriors is exactly what they want.

As the U.S. Congress threatens to block funds for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's (KSM's) civilian trial, critics of President Barack Obama's approach to prosecuting terrorism have a common refrain: KSM is a combatant, not a criminal. As Sen. John Barrasso recently put it, "These people are at war against the United States and our values. They deserve a military judge and jury."

But does KSM really "deserve" the honor of a military trial? That is a privilege normally reserved for defendants entitled to call themselves warriors.

It's no surprise that al Qaeda members would want to be seen as soldiers at war with the United States. Terrorist groups always want to be seen as warriors. Just think of the names they give themselves: the Lord's Resistance Army, Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Righteous"), or the Irish Republican Army, to name a few. The warrior mystique helps them to recruit glory-seeking young men to join their cause. It helps them justify the killing of their enemies and portray all of their victims as casualties of combat. It enables men like Osama bin Laden to portray themselves not as outlaws hiding in caves but leaders of great armies, confronting the world's superpower on a global battlefield.

When KSM was first brought before a military panel in Guantanamo, he reveled in the trappings of military justice. After confessing to the September 11 attacks, he said: "I did it, but this [is] the language of any war." In war, he said, "there will be victims." He then compared himself to George Washington, and said that if Washington had been captured by the British, he too would have been called an "enemy combatant."

It makes sense that a man who plotted the murder of innocent people from a refuge thousands of miles away would want to be seen as a soldier in a war. But why would politicians who claim to be tough on terrorism want to give him that status, as many Republicans do today? Why on earth do they think that facing justice in a civilian court, where the United States prosecutes murderers, rapists, drug dealers, pimps, and yes, terrorists (over 300 during George W. Bush's presidency), would be some sort of privilege?

Even if KSM stands accused of war crimes, it doesn't necessarily follow that he should be put before a military tribunal. The War Crimes Act, passed by Congress unanimously in 1996, gives federal civilian courts jurisdiction to prosecute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in wartime -- in other words, war crimes. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is leading the Republican fight against civilian trials, says that the United States has never put combatants captured on foreign battlefields in civilian courts. That is flat wrong. The George H. W. Bush administration did that to Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of the Panamanian armed forces who was captured during the U.S. military invasion of Panama. Noriega demanded the right to be tried by fellow officers in a military court. The Bush administration conceded that he was a prisoner of war, but tried him before a civilian court anyway to drive home the point that he was nothing more than a drug trafficker. 

If Osama bin Laden were captured alive tomorrow, what image would better serve the United States in the political struggle against al Qaeda -- an image of bin Laden in an orange Guantánamo jumpsuit brought before military officers, or one of the same man in plain clothes holding a serial number in an ordinary jailhouse mug shot? Which image would make him look bigger, and which smaller, in the eyes of his followers? Which would better convey America's confidence in itself and how it looks with contempt on those who murder civilians?

The second Bush administration got it right in 2003 when it put "shoe bomber" Richard Reid on trial before a federal civilian court (a decision to which none of Obama's current critics objected). Reid, who differed from the "underwear bomber" only in his choice of bomb-concealing clothing, also insisted at trial that he was a soldier at war with America. The judge in that case, William Young, replied:

"You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. ... So war talk is way out of line in this court. You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders."

That's what the choice of venue in the 9/11 trial should convey. That's what the Obama administration should say to critics who demand that the U.S. government treat terrorists as soldiers: You are giving al Qaeda what they want. You are elevating them to a stature they do not deserve.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Only Haitians Can Save Haiti

The world has tried before to fix this troubled state -- and failed each time. Now will be no different, unless Haitians take the lead.

Amid the haste and confusion that has followed January's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, outside experts have suggested a wide range of solutions for getting the country back up and running. Battle lines are already forming over how reconstruction should be led, who should lead it, and what the priorities should be. Countless proposals have been floated, even as daily life in the disaster zone churns on.

What most fixes have in common is the assumption that Haiti can't do the job itself, even given the funds. A recovery project of this magnitude requires a large number of talented and capable leaders. And Haiti, many fear, has too few. Look no further than the Haitian government's early response to the crisis, in which the president, René Préval, was largely invisible, and the deficit in local capacity becomes painfully clear.

Yet most proposed Haiti recovery plans risk entrenching the very hollowing out that made the earthquake so deadly. Foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs have tried to rebuild Haiti before. To be sure, some of their plans were ill-conceived, but many have left with a shrug and the discouraged understanding that Haiti won't change until the country's institutions do. What is most remarkable about the amnesia this time is the failure from both the international community and Haiti to seize on what might be the country's single most valuable asset: its large, competent, and highly motivated diaspora. Unlike many failed states, Haiti does, in fact, have much of the expertise and talent it needs to start changing the country's trajectory for the better. Those people just happen to be living abroad.

How did Haiti's domestic capacity become so terribly depleted? Dictatorship and misrule have driven away talent for generations, but the international community bears some share of the blame. In times of past crisis, foreigners -- armed with their vastly superior financial and technical means -- have swooped in to impose their own remedies. They often hold minimal consultation with locals, preferring to hash out details on the op-ed pages of papers (and websites!) in countries thousands of miles away.

For these visitors, Haiti's chronic political disarray is often seen as an obstacle rather than something that needs rebuilding. Poor institutions, internationals complain, are a holdup in discussions; the treacherous local bureaucracy pre-empts rapid solutions. As a result of this, together with the perceived shortage of local expertise and professional talent, foreign donors have increasingly bypassed the Haitian government altogether, channeling their aid through a huge proliferation of NGOs, both effective and not.

This has had the insidious effect of drawing already scarce talent and funds away from the government. Twenty years ago, when I first covered Haiti, foreign NGOs vied to hire Haitian local talent. Nowadays, Haitians themselves operate thousands of NGOs, seeing them as the only way of gaining support from abroad. "The donors have steadily contributed to the emasculation of the Haitian state," says Robert Fatton, a University of Virginia professor of government.

I saw the power of Haiti's diaspora up close back in 1991, Haiti's last real chance at a true reinvention. Back then, the inauguration of a new leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had brought hope for change. Although the priest-turned-populist politician is still best remembered for the galvanizing effect he had on Haiti's long-suffering masses, Aristide's inspirational impact was by no means limited to the poor. As a reporter in Haiti covering the politician's initial rise, I witnessed thousands of emigrants returning enthusiastically to the country from the United States, Canada, France, and places farther afield.

Their return was more than just a celebration of what they thought was the end of a long nightmare of authoritarian misrule. Many came prepared to lend their hard-earned professional skills, their ideas, and in some cases their money to the reconstruction of their battered but still proud nation. For weeks after Aristide took power, hotel rooms in the capital were scarce because of the presence of these returnees, many of whom arrived in Port-au-Prince with dossiers bulging with well-researched plans for social initiatives and projects of one kind or another.

This same powerful tide of optimism could return again -- though it's easy to forget that it ever existed. Last time, the diaspora quickly grew disillusioned and drifted away when neither Aristide's disorganized and suspicious new government nor the outside world offered them much support. But Haiti's diaspora is stronger today and eager to help. Haitian nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, architects, lawyers, planners, and other professionals -- people with the very skills the country will need if it is to rebuild -- pepper the immigrant middle classes of cities like New York, Miami, Montreal, and Paris. Remittances sent from Haitians living overseas surpass the value of the country's exports and are estimated to account for one-quarter of its GDP. Many have stepped up their contributions of cash and goods to their homeland following the earthquake, but an urgent priority going forward must be creating a more structured and smartly financed way to mobilize and engage them in the rebuilding effort. (A good start would be simply passing a law to grant dual nationality.)

Armed with international ties and a host of professional knowledge, Haiti's expats could bridge the otherwise crippling divide between Haiti and the international community, boosting local capacity and enhancing the confidence of foreign partners that reconstruction assistance will be well used.

Take education. The education sector in Port-au-Prince has become a virtual jungle, with a proliferation of private schools of dubious quality on nearly every street corner. In the countryside, meanwhile, entire districts are said to lack schools, and getting an education beyond the primary level is impossible for most. The result is an illiteracy rate that is officially 45 percent but that many think is actually quite higher -- 70 percent or more. Universities are in terrible shape too. "In most [universities], there is no such thing as full-time faculty. Students must pay their professors just to get them to read their work, and it takes many of them as long as six years to get a master's [degree]," Leslie Desmangles, a Haitian-American professor of international studies and religion at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., told me. "A new system needs to be built from scratch."

The well-educated diaspora could lead a remake of the educational system, providing a much-needed model for the rollout of other vital services, from public health to justice to agricultural extension and a new fiscal infrastructure. Robert Maguire, a longtime Haiti expert and professor at Trinity Washington University, suggests building this and other public services through a "national civic service corps" of a half-million people or more. With international support, such a program could fund the presence of returnees from abroad in small towns and villages across the country for fixed terms of perhaps two or three years, during which time they would staff local schools and train indigenous teachers. This training and hiring of locals would spread opportunity through society while it built capacity for future years.


Such a setup could help end what many Haiti hands call the "Republic of Port-au-Prince" -- the overwhelming concentration of jobs, wealth, goods, and (to the extent that they exist at all) services in the capital. Massive investment is needed for new roads to link up urban centers that have been rendered enclaves of destitution by the country's scanty infrastructure. Secondary roads into the interior are equally important so as to revitalize agriculture, allowing peasants to get their goods to domestic markets and to ports for export. Physical infrastructure must be accompanied, however, by investments in human services. Already, the populations of many secondary towns have swollen by tens of thousands of poor people who have fled Port-au-Prince's devastation. Preventing such chaotic urbanization is an urgent priority -- and one that could be achieved by quickly developing basic services in areas where few exist. The national service corps, or another countrywide initiative with diaspora help, could get the job done.

Of course, like all fixes for such devastating crises, none of this will be as easy as it sounds. Haiti's peculiar but deeply rooted nationalism and stark class divide mean that reserving a vital role in the country's reconstruction for members of the diaspora could arouse more opposition than the arrival of yet more of the typical cadres of the United Nations and other international institutions. Many in Haiti's narrow elite might resent a large role given to returnees as a dilution of their own power and influence. Members of Haiti's lower classes, meanwhile, will be wary of newcomers usurping jobs and opportunities that might otherwise go their way. Others might worry that a reconstruction program would draw mediocre talent -- people who had not succeeded abroad, rather than those who had built strong records of accomplishment.

Thankfully, these objections can be overcome with relative ease. A well-designed, foreign-funded, public service recruitment program, for example, could rigorously vet candidates according to published criteria and allow qualified locals to compete for these jobs alongside returnees. Overseas recruiters could expect high quality and a strong turnout by focusing substantially on Haitian-Americans who have freshly graduated from college or graduate school and professional educators overseas who are approaching or have recently reached retirement age. To encourage the fresh graduates, remuneration could include some form of relief from college loan debt. Another way to smooth the way for diaspora involvement, Fatton suggests, might be a national conference held in Port-au-Prince, once basic services and a minimal sense of normalcy have been restored.

Haiti's diaspora represents a big chunk of the true middle class that the society has never had due to flight from poverty and misrule. Plugging this missing element back into society and giving full play to its talents is the surest way of speeding Haiti's renaissance.