Friday, October 13, 2006

Daniel Pearl's killer: all the perfumes of Arabia

Remember Daniel Pearl? His kidnapping and brutal murder in the winter of 2002 sent shock waves throughout this country, back in a time when we were still relatively shockable.

The still shots released of Pearl during his captivity reinforced the idea that somehow we knew him, even though we didn't. He looked so intensely and immensely likeable--friendly, intelligent, humorous--and the reports of friends, colleagues, and family painted a picture that only accentuated that impression.

Pearl met his death by beheading. The manner of his death seemed especially cruel, medieval, and barbaric--and it was, and it was meant to be. That shocked us further. It meant that even though many of us thought at the time that we knew this enemy, it turned out that we really didn't know this enemy. Not yet.

Well, we know more now. Beheadings became relatively commonplace, and videos were often part of the brutal PR game, the marriage of ancient bloodthirstiness with modern media savvy. Who would have thought that beheadings would be used as a recruitment tool? But it's no longer any sort of surprise.

The manner of death matters. Pearl suffered greatly, and it massively increased the suffering of his family to know how he died, and to know that millions around the globe were watching it with glee and rejoicing.

But in another sense it hardly mattered: Pearl would have been just as dead, just as lost to his family, if he'd been given a relatively humane lethal injection.

And now it turns out that there's another way in which the manner of Pearl's death may end up mattering: the video made by the killers, in which only the hands of the murderer were seen, appears to have led to the identification of the man who actually wielded the blade.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in Pakistan in March of 2003, was apparently not content to merely mastermind death in this case; it seems he wanted a direct hands-on experience. Here are some of KSM's exploits. It's been known for quite a while that KSM was involved in the Pearl kidnapping, but an analysis of his hands while in captivity and a comparison to those in the beheading video has implicated him as the actual murderer.

KSM, who is a Pakistani-Kuwaiti national, was originally held and interrogated in a prison or prisons of unknown and disputed location, with CIA involvement. His interrogation may or may not have involved physically coercive techniques such as waterboarding. But we can be pretty sure it involved some sort of stress, if only psychological. KSM supposedly confessed to Pearl's murder, "admitting without remorse that he personally severed Pearl's head and telling interrogators he had to switch knives after the first one 'got dull.'"

"Without remorse;" no Lady Macbeth, he. Although KSM's hands are far more blood-stained, he's not looking for the perfumes of Arabia to sweeten them.

And now he makes his home in Guantanamo. That much is certain. In fact, last night--before I'd read the piece about KSM's implication in Pearl's beheading--I heard on the news that the International Red Cross had visited him recently there.

KSM now gets three square meals a day and a chance to communicate with his relatives. And soon, perhaps, he'll even get a chance to face charges in a military tribunal, now that Congress has allowed such trials to be held.

I'm looking forward to KSM facing justice, and I agree that a military tribunal is the way to go. KSM is not an ordinary criminal, but a war criminal, and must be treated as such. It was true at Nuremberg, and it's true now.

Such remedies are flawed, but they're the best we have here on earth. What would real justice for KSM be? We must leave that to the great beyond. KSM, no doubt, believes it will be heaven and the seventy-two virgins. Others believe otherwise. I frankly state I do not know. But earthly justice can't come soon enough.

[I've written before, at length, here , about the complex question of torture--or even milder forms of coercion--for terrorists.]

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