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Five Myths About International Criminal Trials

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On the basis of what empirical studies I could find about the effectiveness of international tribunals versus execution of mass-murderers, I debunk the following in my latest Current Intelligence essay, responding to effects-based claims on both sides of the debate about whether Osama bin Laden should have been tried instead of summarily executed:

MYTH #1: OBL Could Never Have Received a Fair Trial.
MYTH #2: OBL Would Simply Have Used the Court as A Way to Promote Jihadism.
MYTH #3: A Trial Would Have Become a Focal Point For Further Attacks.
MYTH #4: A Trial Would Have Helped Deter Future Acts of Jihadist Terror and Build a Culture of Human Rights.

And lowest but most:

MYTH #5: The Question is Whether Trials Work.

In the final analysis, whether summary executions of terrorist leaders are preferable to trials is not a question of pragmatics. It is a normative issue. It is about whether an easy, illegal option with few benefits and certain drawbacks is preferable to a harder, legal option with equally uncertain outcomes. It is ultimately about whether or not the leaders of civilised nations believe they themselves are above the rule of law.

Read the whole thing here.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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  • The Fool

    Granting #1 and #5…what about fact #1: OBL wouldn’t receive a fair trial? Would it still be worth putting him on trial if we’re inevitably going to fail at that key objective?

    • Fill in the blank, Fool: We know bin Laden wouldn’t receive a fair trial because the trial of other high-profile terrorists like ____________ was unfair.

      Timothy McVeigh?

      The Blind Sheik?

      Richard Reid?

      C’mon, help me out here.

      • Bill Murray

        Skilling and Lay to Republicans?

      • The Fool

        the 10 years after 9/11? The fact that the Guantanamo Bay prisoners couldn’t even be transferred into the USA, much less tried in a civilian court due to massive fears of a terrorist strike?

        • The Fool

          fears of a mythical strike, as pointed out above, but still. Very real fears or at least political pressure using the idea of such fear as an excuse.

  • Murc

    Count me among those who think that even if myths #2 and #3 are true, our response should be ‘so fucking what?’

    Number three especially is like arguing we shouldn’t arrest mafia dons because they’ll just (try to) have witnesses and cops killed. Even if that’s true… so fucking what? We STOP THEM. Nobody said providing justice would be easy.

    • Joe

      Yup. Same thing whenever people, usually quite selectively, complain about the negative consequences of our system of rights.

  • Pithlord

    Isn’t the issue whether shooting OBL was illegal? I thought you more or less accepted that it was OK, so long as there was no order not to accept a surrender.

    • The Fool

      So it would be ok if DEVGRU (it’s a far better name than Seal Team Six) ignored any capture or kill orders and shot him anyway? or if the orders to accept surrender were known not to be meant?

    • That’s an issue, but there are other issues.

      One can think that it was perfectly legal to shoot bin Laden, just as long as no attempt to surrender was ignored, and still think it would have been preferable to capture him alive.

  • Bart

    One feature of a trial would have been OBL’s statements about why he attacked the West. His various fatwas and ravings received public little attention back when they were made, but his complaints about our troops in their holy land, our support for heinous ME dictators and bias toward Israel might be educational.

    • Most people think that the justifications that mass murderers provide for their crimes discredit whatever arguments they make.

      If you think Osama bin Laden has some good points to make, the last thing you should want is for him to be the one making them.

      • Bill Murray

        really? most people think this? or is this only really true when it’s mass murder who murder in a way I don’t like?

        • Are you playing dumb, or do you really not get this?

          “Really? Most people are repelled by what mass murderers have to say? Really? That’s crazy, man!”

          • I wonder why they never hired him to do commercials.

            “Have a Coke and a smile, infidel pigs.”

            • N.Thomas..

              “Have a Coke and a smile, infidel pigs.”

              Now *that’s* pretty funny!

              Maybe a ham sandwich, too?

    • Brenda Helverson

      I agree with Bart. As I understand it, Osama wanted the U.S to remove our military bases from the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. And as I understand it, we quickly did exactly that. Everything since then has been saber-rattling.

      It is likely that this issue and many others would have been aired at trial. But even worse, testimony would have revealed that we trained and equipped Osama and his band and supported them for many years to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Saint Reagan and Old Man bush would have looked bad. Nobody wants that.

      • And as I understand it, we quickly did exactly that. Everything since then has been saber-rattling.

        Huh?

        Then why has al Qaeda continued to carry out terrorist attacks since then?

        But even worse, testimony would have revealed that we trained and equipped Osama and his band and supported them for many years to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

        I hate to once again have to destroy this cherished myth, but Osama bin Laden was a huge funder of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, pouring millions of dollars of his own money, and that of his rich Saudi friends, into the cause.

  • Normy.Thomas.

    I think the real problem is the characterization of OBL as an “international criminal” as if he’s a diamond theif cat burglar stealing from wealthy Swiss in Monaco.

    He wasn’t

    He was at war with the West, particularly the US and Israel. To treat this as a run-of-the-mill diamond thief is just ludicrous.

    • How about a run-of-the-mill crime boss and mass murderer? We try them all the time. You think he has more blood on his hands than some of the drug cartel bosses rotting in our jails?

      How about a run-of-the-mill death camp commandant? We tried plenty of them.

      Why is it that people – both on the left and right – cling to this delusion that “combatant” and “criminal” are mutually-exclusive categories?

      • gmack

        Not to mention that the relevant comparison is to Mladic, who was, you know, the actual subject of the actual article. He also was at war with “the West” (if by the West we mean the U.S. and its allies) and who, as Professor Carpenter accurately points out, was responsible for a great many more atrocities against civilians than Bin Laden was.

      • N.Thomas..

        Why is it that people – both on the left and right – cling to this delusion that “combatant” and “criminal” are mutually-exclusive categories?

        So, if you want to categorize all combatants as ‘criminals’, how do you propose to offer civil trils to them all?

        How would this have been accomplished in WW II? Vietnam?

        • So, if you want to categorize all combatants as ‘criminals’

          Umwut?

          I never wrote any such thing.

          I wrote that combatants can be criminals, not that all combatants are criminals. The vast majority of combatants are not criminals, and the vast majority of criminals are not combatants. There is, however, some overlap.

          • Normy.Thomas.

            Hey, with your philosophy, you could eliminate military trials altogether!!

            Who need ’em, right? They’re all just criminals, and nothing more.

            And when you find out that you’re only advocating civilian trials for the commanders, then some of the more liberal liberals will complain that you are discriminating and the lower level combatants also deserve three million dollar and two year trials in New York City.

            What will you tell them?

    • Bart

      How about likening him to the bee that stings the bear who has raided the hive?

      All his complaints concerned foreign actions, crusades, etc., that we started.

      • The bee didn’t do anything wrong.

        You a sick individual.

      • Yes, those people in the Twin Towers did have it coming.

        After all, they “raided the hive.” Or something.

        • Bart

          Yes, we raided their hive. It’s easy when you keep explanations simple.

  • To treat this as a run-of-the-mill diamond thief is just ludicrous.

    Normy- a diamond thief, even one who crosses state borders, is a _domestic_ criminal. He might have committed crimes in more than one state, but that doesn’t make one an _international_ criminal. International crimes are a select few very serious acts that, for the most part, threaten international peace. Since you have no idea what you’re talking about, you should perhaps be quiet.

    • Normy.Thomas.

      …you should perhaps be quiet.

      Adn YOU should swallow what I tell you to swallow.

  • Joe

    R. Charli Carpenter?

    Anyway …

    1. Such trials aren’t for nations like us, doncha know? Unlike your garden variety backwater, we can do fair trials. (/snark)

    2. “Simply” makes it easy to refute.

    3. Sound about right. Also, see #5

    4. Kinda doesn’t sound like a “myth,” even if only partially true.

    5. Yes.

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