The five terrorists facing federal trial in New York have some powerful arguments at their disposal. All they need to do is recycle Democratic talking points criticizing President George W. Bush's foreign policy.
Defense attorney Scott Fenstermaker, who is representing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, said the accused terrorists would make the case about "their assessment of American foreign policy," adding, "Their assessment is negative." The current administration shares the same assessment; President Obama's foreign policy has been a conscious and smug rejection of the policies of his predecessor.
Mr. Obama made great theater of ordering the closure of the U.S. terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in his first days in office. The so-called "American Gulag" had become a centerpiece of the Democratic critique of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism. In this respect, the Democrats echoed what Osama bin Laden had been saying for years. In his November 2002 "Letter to America," the al Qaeda leader stated that "what happens in Guantanamo is a historical embarrassment to America and its values, and it screams into your faces - you hypocrites. ..."
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. breezily quipped that he is "not scared of what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has to say at trial - and no one else needs to be, either." But Mohammed is likely to rely heavily on the documents Mr. Holder rushed into public view to make the case that the Bush administration was engaged in war crimes. Again, bin Laden in his 2002 amicus brief: "History will not forget the war crimes that you committed against the Muslims and the rest of the world. ... In America, you captured thousands of Muslims and Arabs, took them into custody with neither reason, court trial, nor even disclosing their names." The Obama administration is seeking to correct these perceived wrongs.
The tone is similar. Bin Laden lamented, "Allah alone knows how many people have died by torture at the hands of you and your agents," years before the Justice Department released the "torture memos" and pondered whether to indict Bush administration officials on war crimes charges.
In general terms, al Qaeda's rationale for making war on the United States mirrors the liberal critique of the Bush years. To answer the question "Why are we fighting and opposing you?" bin Laden said the primary reason is that America is a global aggressor. "You attacked and continue to attack us," he wrote. "Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities." In his view, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America were justifiable acts of self-defense because "it is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge."
Bin Laden's justification for al Qaeda action dovetails with the liberal argument that the "neoconservative" Bush strategy of intervention abroad created more problems than it solved and that the terrorists are understandably, if not justifiably, responding to American aggression.
Bin Laden also made the case against cultural imperialism. He claimed that the United States is the "worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind" because America tolerates "immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, alcohol, gambling and usury." He charged America with being a leading eco-criminal state, having "destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history" and for refusing "to sign the Kyoto [climate] agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries." Given the centrality of green hysteria to bin Laden's message, perhaps Mr. Obama can try to spin signing a Copenhagen-style job-destroying climate treaty as a legitimate counterterrorism measure.
The terrorist defense team will make these and other typical al Qaeda arguments in an attempt to place the Bush administration's foreign policy on trial. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has given the team a lot of material with which to work.