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Paul C. Roberts on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s trial

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, in Washington, DC. Joining us now from Florida is Paul Craig Roberts. He was an assistant secretary of the Treasury Department under the Reagan administration. He was an associate editor of The Wall Street Journal. Welcome, Mr. Roberts. And tell me your column again.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS, ECONOMIST AND COLUMNIST: I’m doing a syndicated column for Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles.

JAY: You’ve written recently about the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York. Give us your take. The right wing has been condemning bringing him to New York City as a threat to security. The civil rights community has sort of had mixed opinions. What’s yours?

ROBERTS: Well, I think the trial is a grave danger to Americans. To start with, under our criminal law the case against him would have to be dismissed, because he’s been tortured. And the government acknowledges that he’s been tortured, but they’re bringing him to trial anyhow, and they’re convinced that he will be convicted. I suspect that’s right. It’s very hard to imagine a jury that would let off a person who has been widely demonized as the mastermind of 9/11. Any such juror who voted for acquittal wouldn’t be able to go back to his neighborhood, and it’s highly unlikely any federal judge would put his career on the line by permitting a trial that led to acquittal. So the government’s supposition that he will be found guilty is probably correct.

JAY: Now their argument is that they have enough evidence that they gained outside of the torture to make the case.

ROBERTS: Perhaps. But the fact they used torture itself is enough for dismissing the case against him. David [inaudible] wrote a very interesting article, and he pointed out that the price that Mohammed will pay will be small compared to the price our legal system will pay in the loss of protections that Americans have under the law. That will be the main victim of the trial. It in my opinion will complete the transformation of the American legal system.

JAY: Now, is this because it establishes a precedent that you can torture and still convict?

ROBERTS: That’s one of the things, yes, that you can torture and prosecute. There’ll also be rulings, probably, that Mohammed’s statements obtained by torture don’t have to be suppressed. There’ll probably be rulings that witnesses against him don’t have to be produced. They’ll claim national security or something. And there’ll be rulings that documents that compromise the prosecution will be redacted. At each stage of the appeals, high courts will enshrine the rulings of the lower courts, and they will become legal precedents. And we will also lose the right to a speedy trial, habeas corpus. You know, the man didn’t have habeas corpus. If they had such evidence against him, they wouldn’t have needed to hold him all these years or to waterboard him. And what we will see in his trial is the undermining of every protected feature in the law that was the product of a thousand-year struggle mainly achieved by the English, and we inherited from it as an English colony.

JAY: So, going back, if you had this all to do over again, what is the first thing? Don’t torture? How do you deal with these kinds of cases?

ROBERTS: If you don’t arrest—if you don’t have good enough evidence that you can go before a judge for a warrant, how can you hold a person? If you can’t go—you don’t have enough evidence to go to the court and say, "Look. Here’s the evidence. This is why we have him." Look at the Guantanamo detainees. You know, this is now a known fact. This isn’t my opinion. There were almost 800 of those people. And what? Almost all of them have been released. There was nothing against them. Hundreds of them were held for years and years. They lost years of their lives. There was no case against them. So the reason they’re torturing is they don’t have any evidence, and they’re trying to get it through self-incrimination, which is impermissible under the Constitution.

JAY: So what do you make of—.

ROBERTS: [inaudible] So why did they have all these people in there? If all these people were terrorists, why did they end up turning them loose? They’re all—you know, they’ve all—what? Eighty percent of them or more has turned loose. They’re talking about bringing cases against 14 out of—what was the figure?—780 people.

JAY: So what do you make of the argument, if one watches Fox News—and I’m prone to do it once in a while, just to keep track—that, quote-unquote, this is a "war on terror", and once you declare somebody a combatant, an enemy combatant in this war on terror, even if they’re an American citizen, apparently, if you listen to what they’re saying about Fort Hood, then the constitutional rights no longer apply. You should treat them as one would on the battlefield. And that’s the way you deal with terrorists. What do you make of that?

ROBERTS: If you can declare somebody to be a terrorist, or if you don’t have any evidence, then we’re back into the medieval times when the robber barons could grab you and throw you in a prison, and you’d be there the rest of your life and never have to tell anybody, never have to bring a case. You know, this is an extremely dangerous thing. It’s far more dangerous to Americans than terrorists. A terrorists can do very little, but the government that’s not constrained by the Constitution can do all kinds of things. We have Joe Stalin. We have Adolf Hitler. They were far greater dangers to their populations than so-called external enemies.

JAY: What would you propose now [for] the people that are in Guantánamo, the cases that are still pending?

ROBERTS: I would bring cases against the people who had put them there, who lied, contrived, broke US—. It’s against US statutory law to torture. It’s against the Geneva Conventions. You know, we executed all sorts of Germans after World War II and Japanese. We executed Japanese for waterboarding American soldiers. I think it’s more important to protect the principles and protect the liberty of Americans than it is to try to extract some vengeance against somebody who may or may not have been involved in an act of terror.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s go a little further, because one of President Obama’s first important decisions was not to go after some of the people who ordered torture. He decided not to go prosecute President Bush or Cheney. And we’ll ask you for your opinion about that when we rejoin you. So please join us for the second part of our interview with Paul Craig Roberts.