NEW YORK--One of my favorite books is Integrity, conservative Stephen L. Carter's 1996 primer on ethics. Carter writes that integrity requires doing the right thing, "even at personal cost." In politics, the example of Al Gore's father comes to my mind: Sen. Al Gore Sr. openly opposed segregation and the Vietnam War even though he knew his outspokenness would cause him to lose his 1970 re-election campaign.
Faced with the choice between integrity and expediency, Republicans are taking the low road. We are talking, of course, about Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in Manhattan, within walking distance of the World Trade Center memorial.
It's interesting to watch law-and-order conservatives like Rudy Giuliani talk away basic legal rights like habeas corpus. "[Mohammad] should be tried in a military tribunal," Giuliani says, "He is a war criminal. This is an act of war." No, Mr. Mayor, he's not. Sept. 11 was a criminal act, and a terrible one: mass murder, air piracy and property damage. Until Mohammed is tried and convicted in a court of law, he is innocent until proven guilty.
The attorney general's decision should be commended. He was correct to act independently, without consulting with President Barack Obama. Still, Holder's pseudo-conservative critics have good reasons to worry about how the trial will unfold.
For example, Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan fears accused terrorists will exploit their trials. He worries they will "disrupt it and make it a circus and allow them to use it as a platform to push their ideology." Well, yeah. In political proceedings, the defendants always try to put the state on trial. Unfortunately, the military, CIA and Bush administration made that outcome inevitable by refusing to treat 9/11 as a crime.
John "Torture Memo" Yoo frets in The Wall Street Journal that "KSM and his co-defendants will enjoy the benefits and rights that the Constitution accords to citizens and resident aliens--including the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it got it." Though self-serving, it's an excellent point. The whole sordid story of America's post-9/11 torture program will be internationally televised.
The government could have avoided this unpleasantness by not torturing. And, when we learned of reports that our government was torturing, we could have racked up some integrity points by taking to the streets by the million to demand that it stop.
Now it's time for America to take its lumps. Even if that means putting Mohammed on a plane to Pakistan and watching him arrive home to a hero's welcome. Release is how a judge and jury typically treat a man who has been tortured.
What does Stephen L. Carter think about this? I don't know, but I'd like to think he would agree with me. Integrity requires one to accept responsibility for one's actions.
Ted Rall is the author of the new graphic memoir The Year of Loving Dangerously.