The Remnants of “War on Terror”

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on Fox News Sunday this weekend to argue against the Obama administration’s plan to try some alleged terrorists in New York courts. He did not acquit himself well.

Giuliani argued, for example, that criminal defendants aren’t tried “at the scene of the crime.” Criminal defendants are almost always tried in the jurisdictions where their crimes took place (not at the actual crime scene, of course). Giuliani’s insistence on misstating basic criminal procedure showed that he was twisting to score points against the administration. This is inappropriate political use of terrorism issues.

But Chris Wallace roasted Giuliani—with quotes from Rudy Giuliani. Of prosecuting the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Giuliani said: “[Y]ou put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other, and our legal system comes out ahead.” Giuliani said that the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui shows “that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law.”

As he did during his failed presidential campaign, Giuliani appears caught in a terror-warrior time warp. He criticized the Obama administration for eschewing the regrettable phrase “war on terror,” and he betrayed no awareness of what has dawned since 9/11 on the rest of the country: Terrorism seeks overreaction on the part of victim states. Cool, phlegmatic prosecution of terrorists deprives them of rhetorical victories that empower them by drawing others to their side.