This is just sad. We all know now that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, "the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," has admitted to all sorts of planned terrorist attacks on the United States. He has admitted his plans through interrogations at Guantanamo, in the end delivering his final soliloquy (available here: .pdf) to a closed American military tribunal, which remains anonymous.
Sheik Mohammed appears coherent in the transcript, apart from the rough English. He admits to a laundry list of attacks and planned attacks. He challenges the notion of "enemy combatant" as a term relative to American justice and politics. And he repeatedly pleads for others in US captivity as innocents caught up in American sweeps, many of whom, he suggests, don't really even know what the Taliban or al Qaeda are, but were simply continuing the fight in Afghanistan against invading infidels (first Russia, now the US). He portrays al Qaeda as an organized effort in this fight.
What's of interest, no doubt, to the US is the admission of responsibility or shared responsibility for the listed attacks. The goal of the tribunal is to classify him as an "enemy combatant" (note that the justification for the prior detention is that detainees are "enemy combatants"). We know that "enemy combatant" is an extra-legal term contrived by the administration to circumvent normal legal procedure.
But what does the tribunal really do here? Khalid Sheik Mohammed had already been accused and condemned prior to the tribunal. Thus, his Guantanamo detention. Presumably, the "alternative interrogation" he has undergone has yielded confessions of various sorts. Thus, the laundry list is no surprise, only some of its contents. What is the point?
First, the post-Abu Ghraib US (and let's not forget Guantanamo, Baghram, rendition country prisons, the black sites, and countless other sites for US torture) has lost its legitimacy when it comes to such tribunals. They are suspect in the first place as legal courts. But the fact that testimony has been achieved through torture will always haunt the US, morally and politically. No matter how fairly the actual tribunals are conducted, their legitimacy is in eternal suspension. It will be difficult to convince anyone that they are anything other than kangaroo courts, regardless of whether they are or not. This is the legacy of the Bush administration's use of torture in the "war on terror."
Second, we know that the US administration has repeatedly used events such as the Sheik Mohammed trial for self-preservationist political goals as much or more than anything else (such as, oh... say, good policy or actual "security"). Various news sources are, of course, reporting on the tribunals. But almost all of them, reading between the lines, wonder what the political gain is for the Bush administration by releasing the tribunal document. This is where public attention is directed. There is very little trust remaining in the American government that it is doing anything in the public interest, as is the general objective of a representative democracy. This distrust will bleed into following presidencies. It can only be corrosive of the relationship between the public and its representatives, between citizens and their faith in their democratic government.
One might say, as administration supporters often do, that we ought not to raise these issues because their very exposure and discussion are corrosive. But there's now no way around this. The Khalid Sheik Mohammed tribunal will always be a kangaroo court. American legitimacy on such matters is wrecked. This is not our fault for thinking about it or discussing it. This is the result of the administration's conduct of both domestic and foreign policy.