It wasn't Osama bin Laden (OBL) who came up with the idea of using airliners as ballistic missiles. The scheme had to be sold to him by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).
Born in Pakistan, raised in Kuwait and educated as a mechanical engineer in America's South, the comparatively secular KSM became fixated on punishing Washington for its support of Israel, even as OBL was focused on expelling the infidels from Arabia.
On Friday, US Attorney-General Eric Holder announced that KSM, the brains behind the 9/11 plot, in US custody since March 2003, would be put on trial in Manhattan federal court along with his co-conspirators, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz and Walid Bin Attash. All face the death penalty.
Holder insisted that the decision to forgo a military trial and place the case before a civilian jury sitting just blocks from Ground Zero was his decision alone; that President Barack Obama was informed after the fact because the president, himself a lawyer, did not want to intrude in the justice system.
BUT AREN'T the 9/11 attacks more a matter of national security than of criminal justice?
Holder's decision regrettably treats what the conspirators did as a major crime rather than an act of war.
Moreover, it provides KSM with the opportunity to turn the trial into an enormous "reality TV" extravaganza, in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks.
It gives Islamist terrorists fresh incentives to target New York City.
It risks exposing in open court the methods US intelligence employs to combat Muslim extremists.
Finally, although Holder insinuated that federal prosecutors have ample admissible evidence against the plotters, an open, possibly televised trial, will divert attention from the conspiracy to the fact that KSM - a "ticking bomb" if ever there was one - was repeatedly tortured.
This will not play well on Al-Jazeera.
In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that alien terrorists were constitutionally sheltered by the same protections US citizens enjoy, because they were held at Guantanamo, an enclave in Cuba that is under US jurisdiction. Similarly, they will enjoy the same appellate protections as Americans.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, "By trying them in our federal courts we demonstrate to the world that the most powerful nation on Earth also trusts its judicial system."
Yet does it not also reinforce a false and dangerous impression that the shock troops of global jihad are, at the end of the day, mere criminals as opposed to enemy combatants?
Indeed, in an interview with Jim Lehrer of PBS, Holder referred to the 9/11 attacks, which took over 3,000 American lives, as the "crime of the century" pledging, "This case will be treated as any other criminal case" and not be allowed to deteriorate into a "show trial."
But where will 12 New York-area jurors be found who are sufficiently detached from their environment to assess the evidence and render a judgment on the law to insure a fair trial? On the flip side, what if a jury, falling under the theatrical spell of KSM or his lawyers, repeats the stunning behavior of the 1995 OJ Simpson jurors and acquits?
It would have been preferable, say many Americans, for the defendants to have been put before a military commission that could have better protected both US national interests and the constitutional rights of the accused as defined by the Supreme Court.
As Brooks, the Times columnist, persuasively argued, 9/11 was not aimed exclusively at the victims but at the United States. The purpose was to terrorize the country and force a change in its policies. The attacks were carried out as propaganda and trying their perpetrators in open court affords them fresh propaganda opportunities that will be lapped up by susceptible satellite TV audiences around the world.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed previously entered a guilty plea before a military tribunal, but now has reason to delay his martyrdom. He does not see himself as a bin Laden functionary, but as a major theoretician and consummate jihadi.
Holder's protestations about a "show trial" notwithstanding, the US Justice Department - with President Obama out of the loop - may have inadvertently handed KSM a world-class stage to rationalize 9/11.