Don’t execute Khalid Sheik Mohammed

I’m trying to understand US Attorney General Holder’s decision to try 9/11 “mastermind,” Khalid Sheik Muhammed, in a domestic court of law. Proponents state that KSM will be given a more fair trial in a federal court than what he might receive via a military tribunal. Of course given the fact that this summons will have him facing a jury of New York City residents I’m going to tip-toe out on a limb and suggest that impartiality within the jury pool will be about as helpful in getting him a fair trial as his awesome hairdo upon capture would have been in getting him a GQ cover. I suspect this move of KSM and three other Guantanamo detainees is the Obama administration’s “yeah, well it’s going to happen anyway” move against the overwhelming legislative backlash against his closing of Gitmo. The Republicans completely against it, the Democrats completely for the <i>idea</i> but against the reality that with the base closed those being held don’t simply vanish into thin air.

In either case, whether it’s by military tribunal or federal trial the outcome is almost certainly going to be the not so speedy execution of KSM. Which I think is a bad idea. A dead KSM becomes a martyr. A locked in solitary confinement for the rest of his life KSM becomes impotent and a more effective symbol of American retaliation. In short, if we catch you you lose your martyrdom card and the 72 virgins along with it. What’s the worst fate for an Islamic extremist? Certainly not a violent death. How about death by old age or disease, locked up like cattle and long forgotten by your cause?

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29 Responses to Don’t execute Khalid Sheik Mohammed

  1. tdaxp says:

    A really disturbing post. Of course it would be an ‘outrage’ for al Qaeda: it would be an attack on them by an enemy, at a time of the enemy’s choosing, designed to hurt al Qaeda.

    That’s the point.

    If you look at the history that have tried this pedestrian version of appeasement with dread enemies, time has not been kind to those. From VI Lenin to Nelson Mandela, the opposition is counting on the State to be so simultaneously paralyzed by fear and confident of future strength that it leaves in place the nuclear for a future revolutionary front.

  2. Anon says:

    I keep hearing the martyr angle from people who wish to spare KSM. However, isn’t he already a martyr for being held (and tortured) at Gitmo. How would executing the man change that?

  3. Curzon says:

    I agree that I hope KSM does not get the death penalty, but I think you’re wrong that New York will more likely lead to that result. NY juries are historically loathe to deliver the death penalty.

  4. I like the reasoning here about why not to execute him. Of course I’m always against the death penalty under any and all circumstances, so naturally I’d support the notion of not killing him. :) Leaving him to spend the next 20 to 30 years rotting in a nice, comfortable cell in a prison he will never leave alive is a wonderful punishment.

  5. McKellar says:

    Executing him on US Soil seems positively Roman, ala Vercingetorix. Any other examples of a criminal launching an attack on country A from country B, then captured (in war) in country B, and brought to country A for execution? It would essentially be a reenactment of the overseas war for the benefit of the home audience. KSM’s fate now is more of a footnote, anyway, like Napoleon on St. Helena, he’s already done everything he’s gonna do in this life.

  6. alan says:

    Put him in a pen with 72 pig, put his food in the same trough as the pigs eat from.

  7. Sy says:

    I agree that a life sentence may be harsher for KSM than a death sentence, but I’m concerned that his followers might try taking innocent people hostage in an attempt to free KSM. Executing KSM would prevent this.

  8. I hope he gets the death penalty. The martyrdom thing is overrated. Go ahead and call him a martyr. I call him the guy who attacked America, was hunted down, captured, brought to New York, tried, and put to death . Killing the guy sends the right message.

  9. Brent Grace says:

    To people that are inclined to think of him as a martyr, he’ll be a martyr in Gitmo, a martyr in New York, a martyr in prison and a martyr in the ground, so we might as well put him to death.

    One consideration we need to make is this: what message will the execution of KSM send to the world? And not just to AQ (those guys are nuts anyway) or the E.U. (a lost cause on many fronts) but instead to the uncommitted villagers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or any other South/Central Asian or middle eastern country. If we let him off easy, if we demonstrate that we don’t have the wherewithal to deliver retribution to a man who participated in the murder of 3,000 of our countrymen, then the people we need on our side will wonder just what kind of country America is. They will view America as a nation of weak people who are not worth cooperating with (if we won’t kill to protect our own people…).

    On the other hand, KSM’s execution will be an act that average people in tribal societies will respect. They will see that America values the lives of our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters enough to kill to protect them. After all, the execution of a murderer is an expected and reasonable outcome to a person from a traditional society.

    About six months before 9/11 I worked with a man from Somalia. We once got to talking about the relationship between Somalia and the U.S. and I asked him if people in Somalia hated the U.S. He protested that most people in Somalia love the idea of the U.S. and many would like to move here, but that Somalians don’t respect our county because they saw us as afraid to protect our own people. From Mogadishu to bombing of the U.S.S Cole, the people there got the idea that when America is pushed we back down, and that we “let a man in a cave push us around” (Bin Laden – again, this was pre 9/11). To a society where every adult male is expected to participate in securing the community through what we would call a militia, failing to react with force when someone kills a member of your community is puzzling.

  10. spandrell says:

    Prison rape for eternity seems good enough, yeah.

    Can’t compare him to Mandela or Lenin, those were domestic rebels. Not like the guy has a massive following inside the US.

  11. chirol says:

    I would also agree the martyrdom angle is very exaggerated. The most appropriate punishment (allowed by US law) would be execution. Moreover, it should be done publicly, preferably in NYC or DC.

    While I’d agree there are perhaps more fitting punishments for him, most would be cruel and unusual under US law unfortunately.

  12. Matthew Stinson says:

    I’d support putting KSM in a hole for the rest of his life, but not if we allow him the relative freedom we gave Omar Abdel Rahman, i.e. the freedom to direct terrorist operations from prison.

  13. wufiavelli says:

    Could just throw a bunch of shoes at him.

  14. Perhaps some sort of shoe cannon? :)

  15. Manuel N. Fauni says:

    Conviction of Mohammed will be as sure as the sun rises in the east if and when he is tried in New York as he requested. He really wants to die as a Muslim martyr and he will be hailed so by many Muslims around the world, except by bin Laden. In my thinking, as others do right now, the federal court and the jury should give him a quadruple life sentence, one term for each thousand people he murdered and plus, which will be a very apt sentence rather than glorifying his death as he deserved and admitted so.

  16. M-Bone says:

    The guy is flat out asking to be executed. I say do not give him what he wants.

  17. lirelou says:

    The sentence should be passed without regard to politics, persuasion, or any other external factors. It should simply be based upon the principle of justice. What sparing him will or will not accomplish is irrelevant.

  18. Ernerst P Marr says:

    inside job

  19. Justin says:

    I don’t think we should execute him because I believe killing another human being is wrong. It would be no deterrent for the ’72 virgins’ crowd; the only possible reason to kill him would be revenge. To those who advocate the death penalty- would you carry out the sentence with your own hands? Also, would you support the death penalty for Dick Cheney, who is responsible for the death of many more innocents then Khalid Sheik Muhammed?

    I also find the casually proffered suggestions that he should be mistreated in jail appalling. The images from Abu Ghraib, and those we never saw from Guantanamo, secret prisons etc, were shocking and disgusting to every right-thinking person, though not by many from the right. Some of those who were tortured were guilty too. It’s still wrong, not least because it turns those who undertake torture into monsters. Dostoevsky said ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ We’ve seen recently just how civilized the US really is. The fact that otherwise reasonable and compassionate people so quickly and easily call for the death or abuse of someone is disquieting.

  20. Justin says:

    Also, executing or not will have very little impact in the Middle East. Not invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place would have worked! Getting out of there now would also be a good idea.

  21. Tdaxp, is KSM worth more to al qaeda alive, functionally impotent in American captivity or dead and celebrated? Bear in mind bin Laden’s formative years in Afghanistan when he was the benefactor for a global propaganda/recruiting operation that celebrated jihad and martyrdom in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation. I’m not sure how you conclude “appeasement” from what I wrote. Could you explain it a bit further?

    Brent Grace makes a salient point but I wonder to what degree these “tribal people” identify with or even care about KSM?

    Chirol et al, regarding the overstatement of martyrdom. I disagree. As I suggested above KSM in lifetime solitary confinement will, imo, be much more difficult to effectively mythologize than KSM dead.

    Lirelou that’s an appreciative bit of hyper-realist sentiment, but I question it’s validity given the obviously convoluted nature of the case at hand. This is clearly not a case of pure domestic justice but a strange intermingling of war and the justice system. I don’t think it can be so black and white.

  22. feeblemind says:

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he walks. Was he read his Miranda rights? Was he allowed to have an attorney present during questioning? What about all those years being detained without charges being filed and information being obtained under duress? Judges have let the accused walk for less reasons than those.

  23. Ernerst P Marr says:

    killing Americans is a serious issue,
    not like the bombing of civilians in
    brown countries. So he should
    probably expect the death penaly.

  24. tdaxp says:


    Your comments are literally appeasement. There is no slur here, merely a technical description of what you advocate. You write that killing him would provoke a view of him as a martyrdom. You wish to avoid such a provocation. You wish to appease.

    You ask whether he is worth more alive or dead. Of course, a better way of asking is this: to a young and entrepreneurial al Qaedist, woudl he have a better chance for advncement overseeing an operation than brings KSM home a hero, or overseeing an operation that bring his bones home to a hero’s welcome? The answer is the former, of course. We will, as we always do, provide his remains to his family for burial.

  25. spandrell says:

    You can always kill him inside prison, slowly and anonymously. nothing hero-like about dying of tuberculosis in a dirty cell.

  26. tdaxp says:

    You can always kill him inside prison, slowly and anonymously. nothing hero-like about dying of tuberculosis in a dirty cell.

    I find this torture fetish is typical among those who oppose the death penalty. Sooner or later they all seem to adopt this inhumane rhetoric.

  27. spandrell says:

    Not the case TDAXP.
    I just find the ¨mass suicide¨ of Red Army Faction members in german prisons to be the smartest antiterrorist measure ever taken.

  28. John Galt says:

    Justin: Yes, I’d be willing to kill him myself.

    I don’t know why I’m even bothering to respond to someone who does not understand the difference between KSM and Cheney. Cheney took special pains with ROE’s to minimize civilian casualties. KSM’s goal was civilian casualties.

  29. John Galt says:

    Justin: Because retreating from Mogadishu and Beirut had such a deterrent effect on terrorists.