(by Thomas Sowell, HumanEvents.com) – In the string of amazing decisions made during the first year of the Obama administration, nothing seems more like sheer insanity than the decision to try foreign terrorists, who have committed acts of war against the United States, in federal court, as if they were American citizens accused of crimes.

Terrorists are not even entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention, much less the Constitution of the United States. Terrorists have never observed, nor even claimed to have observed, the Geneva Convention, nor are they among those covered by it.

But over and above the utter inconsistency of what is being done is the utter recklessness it represents. The last time an attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a matter of domestic criminal justice was after a bomb was exploded there in 1993. Under the rules of American criminal law, the prosecution had to turn over all sorts of information to the defense– information that told the Al Qaeda international terrorist network what we knew about them and how we knew it.

This was nothing more and nothing less than giving away military secrets to an enemy in wartime– something for which people have been executed, as they should have been. Secrecy in warfare is a matter of life and death. Lives were risked and lost during World War II to prevent Nazi Germany from discovering that Britain had broken its supposedly unbreakable Enigma code and could read their military plans that were being radioed in that code.

“Loose lips sink ships” was the World War II motto in the United States. But loose lips are mandated under the rules of criminal prosecutions.

Tragically, this administration seems hell-bent to avoid seeing acts of terrorism against the United States as acts of war. The very phrase “war on terrorism” is avoided, as if that will stop the terrorists’ war on us.

The mindset of the left behind such thinking was spelled out in an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, which said that “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, will be tried the right way– the American way, in a federal courtroom where the world will see both his guilt and the nation’s adherence to the rule of law.”

This is not the rule of law but the application of laws to situations for which they were not designed.

How many Americans may pay with their lives for the intelligence secrets and methods that [will be] forced to be disclosed to Al Qaeda was not mentioned. Nor was there mention of how many foreign nations and individuals whose cooperation with us in the war on terror have been involved in countering Al Qaeda– nor how many foreign nations and individuals will have to think twice now, before cooperating with us again, when their role can be revealed in court to our enemies, who can exact revenge on them.

Behind this decision and others is the notion that we have to demonstrate our good faith to other nations, sometimes called “world opinion.” Just who are these saintly nations whose favor we must curry, at the risk of American lives and the national security of the United States?

Internationally, the law of the jungle ultimately prevails, despite pious talk about “the international community” and “world opinion,” or the pompous and corrupt farce of the United Nations. Yet this is the gallery to which Barack Obama has been playing, both before and after becoming President of the United States.

In the wake of the obscenity of a trial of terrorists in federal court for an act of war– and the worldwide propaganda platform it will give them– it may seem to be a small thing that President Obama has been photographed yet again bowing deeply to a foreign ruler. But how large or small an act is depends on its actual consequences, not on whether the politically correct intelligentsia think it is no big deal.

As a private citizen, Barack Obama has a right to make as big a [fool] of himself as he wants to. But, as President of the United States, his actions not only denigrate a nation that other nations rely on for survival, but raise questions about how reliable our judgment and resolve are– which in turn raises questions about whether those nations will consider themselves better off to make the best deal they can with our enemies.

Dr. Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of “Applied Economics” and “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.”

Copyright ©2010 HUMAN EVENTS, November 17, 2009. All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here January 28, 2010 with permission from Human Events.  Visit the website at humanevents.com.


1. What is the main idea of Thomas Sowell’s commentary?

2. What arguments does Mr. Sowell make against trying the terrorists in civilian court?

3. a) Define valid.
b) Do you think Mr. Sowell’s points are valid?

4. An ABC News report explained the Obama administration’s decision to try the terrorists in civilian court with the following: “[a source said that] trying the suspected terrorists in federal court — rather than using military commissions — would send a powerful message to the international community and undo some of the damage the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has done to the U.S. image abroad. The primary message would be that the United States can use its traditional federal court to try, convict and execute the people who devised the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil.”
Do you think this is a valid reason for trying terrorists in civilian court? Explain your answer.

5. A CNN poll conducted November 13-15 revealed that two-thirds of Americans disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian court rather than a military court.
The terrorists are not American citizens but unlawful enemy combatants.
a) Do you support the decision to try them in civilian court? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.



  • Attorney General Eric Holder announced on November 13 that he had decided that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other so-called high-value detainees accused of plotting the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people will be tried in a federal court in New York City.
  • A CNN poll conducted November 13-15 revealed that two-thirds of Americans disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian court rather than a military court.

The Geneva Conventions are rules that tell countries at war how to treat wounded and captured enemy forces and enemy civilians. They were signed in Geneva, Switzerland, by representatives of many countries between 1864 and 1949. (from britannica.com)

The Geneva Conventions are a series of four international agreements (1864, 1906, 1929, 1949) signed in Geneva, Switz., that established the humanitarian principles by which the signatory countries are to treat an enemy’s military and civilian nationals in wartime. The first convention was initiated by Jean-Henri Dunant; it established that medical facilities were not to be war targets, that hospitals should treat all wounded impartially, that civilians aiding the wounded should be protected, and that the Red Cross symbol should serve to identify those covered by the agreement. The second convention amended and extended the first. The third stated that prisoners of war should be treated humanely and that prison camps should be open to inspection by neutral countries. The 1949 conventions made further provisions for civilians falling into a belligerent’s hands. Guerrilla combatants were extended protection in two 1977 amendments, which the U.S. did not sign. (from answers.com)