Karen J. Greenberg: How Washington Lost Faith in America's Courts!

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the unexpected extent of the damage Americans have done to themselves and their institutions is coming into better focus. The event that "changed everything" did turn out to change Washington in ways more startling than most people realize. On terrorism and national security, to take an obvious, if seldom commented upon, example, the confidence of the US government seems to have been severely, perhaps irreparably, shaken, when it comes to that basic and essential institution: the courts. If, in fact, we area "nation of laws," you wouldn't know it from Washington's actions over the past few years. Nothing spoke more directly to that loss of faith, to our country's increasing incapacity for meeting violence with the law, than the wildly hailed decision to kill rather than capture Osama bin Laden. Clearly, a key factor in that decision was a growing belief, widely shared within the national security establishment, that none of our traditional, or even newly created tribunals, civilian or military, could have handled a bin Laden trial. Washington's faith went solely to NAVY SEALS zooming into another country's sovereign airspace on a moonless night on a mission to assassinate bin Laden, whether he offered the slightest resistance or not. It evidently seemed so much easier to the top officials overseeing the operation, and much less messy, than bringing the confessed mass murderer into a courtroom in, or even anyway near the United States.

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