Should Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Be Executed?

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Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that alleged September 11, 2001 "mastermind" Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists will be tried in civilian court in New York raises an important question: What if Mohammed gets the death penalty? Holder said this morning that he expects prosecutors will seek that ruling. But some fear that executing high-level al-Qaeda operatives could galvanize terrorists at a time when al-Qaeda appears to be in decline. Mohammed himself has expressed his desire to be "martyred." Should one of the most violent terrorists in history be put to death?

  • Risk Of Martyrdom  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer warns against martyrdom. "Trying the alleged 9/11 conspirators by military commission, or giving them the death penalty if they are convicted would be a supremely bad idea," he writes. "Martyrdom is a big part of the Al Qaeda worldview, and granting martyrdom to KSM through execution would merely be giving him what he wants. If he's convicted, let him spend the rest of his life in a cell rather than becoming an inspiration to his comrades."
  • 'A Rallying Point'  The Atlantic's Chris Good explains the objections some have to execution. "There was some talk of whether it would be a good idea to seek the death penalty for terrorism suspects, because it could make martyrs of them--perhaps something they would want, something the U.S. should deny them, and something that could provide some gratification, if not a rallying point, to jihadists who support them."
  • 'All They Understand'  Adam Serwer reports the dissent of retired Major Eric Monalvo, who defended Gitmo detainee Mohammed Jawad in his military trial. "I believe taking death off the table is a sign of weakness because in dealing with these radicals, killing and death are all they understand," Montalvo told Serwer. "I am not advocating that the only way to go on this is the death penalty, but it should certainly not be taken off the table for fear of martyrdom."
  • Give KSM What He Wants  The National Review's Andy McCarthy wants us to be accommodating. "KSM and his confederates wanted to plead guilty and have their martyrs' execution last December, when they were being handled by military commission. As I said at the time, we could and should have accommodated them. The Obama administration could still accommodate them," he writes. "Moreover, KSM has no defense. He was under American indictment for terrorism for years before there ever was a 9/11, and he can't help himself but brag about the atrocities he and his fellow barbarians have carried out."

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