World should see terrorists punished

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

President Bush claims to want Osama bin Laden ''dead or alive,'' but it's plain what he'd prefer. He shares the hankerings of Vice President Dick Cheney, who says he'd happily take the man's head on a platter. Summary execution might bring a tidy end to this horrible tale, but tidiness isn't everything. There's also the matter of justice.

And what is justice? It's the thing that separates the civilized from the savage. It's a story whose ending can't be known before it's written -- and whose plot must follow a few old-fashioned rules. Tiresome as they may seem to modern audiences, the rules are crucial to a satisfying denouement. Without them, the story of justice is indistinguishable from the story of vulgar revenge.

There's a difference, and it matters. Justice is the culmination of civilized society's narrative. Revenge is a conclusion reached by lynch mobs. Though the two endings sometimes look the same, the paths traveled to reach them have little in common. The first is paved with insight, the second with blind fury.

The White House lately seems to be opting for the blind road, and the adventure could cost the United States dearly. Most troubling is the president's order creating military tribunals to try foreign terror suspects, which is raising hackles among America's allies and chortles among its enemies. ...

The horrors of Sept. 11 were too great to be adjudicated behind closed doors. If ever Osama bin Laden sets foot in a courtroom -- and chances are slim that he will -- his steps should be watched by the world. The story of his deeds should be recounted for history. Proof of his guilt should be made plain to all eyes. News of his punishment should resound in every grieving heart.

-- Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Dec. 1

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