If, in 2009, Khalid Sheikh Mo-
hammed and four other detainees accused in the 9/11 attacks had been tried in civilian criminal courts, especially the New York federal courts with their great experience in prosecuting terrorism cases, the five by now would have their verdicts, be deep into the appeals process and close to facing whatever fate the judiciary had in store for them.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a continuing embarrassment and rebuke to our preaching about due process and the rule of law, would likely be closed, as President Barack Obama pledged to do early in his first term, and no longer a rallying cry for jihadi zealots.
Instead, the five defendants are still at the U.S. naval base and still awaiting trial by an untested military tribunal cobbled together for the occasion and still no nearer a resolution of the cases against them than they were almost four years ago.
Currently, the cases are tied up in preliminary appeals about what kind of access the defendants' lawyers can have to their clients and interminable wrangling over how to handle classified evidence, matters that a civilian criminal court would have quickly disposed of.
An actual trial is a year or more away.
The Guantanamo legal process has become an embarrassment of political meddling and courtroom procedures seemingly made up on the fly. Guantanamo makes the notoriously slow International Criminal Court in The Hague look like a rocket docket.
The latest embarrassment, likely to confirm the view of foreign skeptics who view these proceedings as bogus, was the discovery that a censorship system was being controlled outside the courtroom, unbeknownst to the judge, blocking sound and video feeds of courtroom proceedings.
The exasperated judge has constantly battled efforts by the government, especially the CIA, to declare large volumes of evidence as classified and thus unavailable to the defendants and often their lawyers.
Seemingly confirming that Guantanamo is an embarrassment that will always be with us -- and perhaps its 165 inmates, too -- the State Department closed the one-person office that was charged with repatriating or resettling those prisoners cleared for release.
Since Guantanamo opened, it has had 779 prisoners. We are basically stuck with those who remain.