The recent execution-style murder of Officer Timothy Brenton has justifiably shaken the residents of Seattle. The suspect, Christopher Monfort, is most certainly the culprit. His car was seen at the crime scene, and when discovered at his apartment a few days later, police claim to have found DNA and ballistics evidence that links him to the crime. Monfort openly talked of waging war against the police, having previously sent threatening letters and is likely also responsible for firebombing several police cruisers. He’s expected to stand trial for these crimes, but I must strongly disagree with that decision. He should be permanently held as a war criminal and not given a trial at all.
There are a number of reasons why I’ve come to this conclusion. For one, a trial is exactly what Monfort wants. He wants to be given a stage to air his views and be seen as a Che Guevara-type figure. He’ll be able to speak freely and criticize the police. And this will fulfill his desire to go down as a martyr for his cause. In addition, the independent media, who are generally anti-police in their perspective, will never present his trial in the proper light. And finally, the city of Seattle simply shouldn’t be subjected to the painful sight of watching a defense attorney try to downplay the seriousness of Monfort’s crimes.
Obviously, I’m being facetious with this argument. It seems odd to consider not trying Monfort in a criminal court, even for crimes that we’re fairly certain he committed. But each of the reasons that former 9/11 co-commissioner Tom Kean gave in the links above are just as true for Christopher Monfort as they are for Khalid Shiekh Mohammed. The distinctions we make in order to separate the two are purely technical – he’s not an American citizen, we’re “at war” with the terrorists. Neither excuse changes the overall logic of having trials for people who’ve committed even the most heinous of crimes. And the excuses for not giving Mohammed a trial for his crimes are just as invalid and absurd as they are when applied to Monfort.
I’d still imagine that there are some who’ve thought (or maybe even still think) that whenever a crime like the murder of Officer Brenton is committed, that we can just do away with our centuries old system of due process and just hang the accused in the public square. But that impulse is usually blunted by the reality that we have a system here that works, and has worked for hundreds of years. Yet when the accused is from another part of the world or when the circumstances feel like a “war”, it gives people an excuse to follow that impulse, regardless of how illogical the rationale becomes. That’s how we end up with someone who was once considered your typical “moderate” Republican making extremist arguments like the ones Kean makes in that interview.
Trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in an American court for his crimes is no more a danger than trying Monfort for his. We don’t fear the possibility that Monfort will have a trial in which he’ll have the right to representation and can speak only in court. Even people like me, who write about the kinds of police abuses that Monfort became agitated over, have no interest in listening to what that jackass has to say about it. The belief that this dynamic is somehow different in the Muslim world, in that a coward like Mohammad has the ear of large numbers of people, is rooted solely in prejudices about the Muslim world. There are certainly large numbers of people in the world who are agitated by some of the same things that Mohammed was agitated about (the plight of the Palestinians, brutal dictators propped up by the U.S.), but the vast majority of them know that killing 3000 civilians in New York is not the right way to respond to it.
The foundations of our justice system work for a reason. They don’t just work because America is great. America is great because those foundations work. They establish a basic set of rights that allow people to feel a basic sense of security that their liberty is protected – that we won’t wake up one day being tortured in a secret prison, accused of a crime that we didn’t commit and have no platform for refuting. And as some recent pieces of good reporting have shown, the fact that we don’t make assurances like that to the rest of the world is precisely what feeds the extremism against us. The idea that denying trials for the Khalid Sheik Mohammeds of the world is what will make us safer has it exactly backwards. If our struggle against terrorism is a battle of ideals, then abandoning our ideals is how we lose that struggle.