Faisal Shahzad, the Connecticut family man turned inept terrorist who planned but failed to detonate an explosives-laden SUV in Times Square last May, has been tried and convicted in open court here in New York City, not in some secret military tribunal, and was sentenced today to life in a supermax prison. The sentencing judge, Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, was by all accounts very patient, even gracious, in allowing the unrepentant Mr. Shahzad to express his martyred acceptance of his punishment while he condemned the actions of the United States in the Middle East, offering them as the impetus behind his abiding hatred of all things American.
So the NYPD and the federal government, with a little help from an alert sidewalk vendor, somehow managed to halt an attack, track down and arrest the naturalized Pakistani-American terrorist who planted the bomb, accord him his due process, and put him on trial with all his constitutional rights intact. And the sky didn't fall... Thus do we exercise our freedoms as Americans, by honoring and observing the same laws we apply to the criminals who break them - not by unilaterally declaring which ones are terrorists, then hunting the accused ones down with no oversight or restraint, and certainly not by abducting, torturing, and keeping them locked up even when there is no credible evidence to suggest they're actually terrorists. Not by hypocritically bleating about how putting terrorists on trial in a major American city will cause all kinds of disruptions, unmanageable stresses on police and security resources, unnecessary revelations of top-secret government secrets, and other assorted ginned-up potential catastrophes. Nor by hiding behind the shield of American Exceptionalism, meaning holding ourselves to a different standard - if we choose not to apply to suspected terrorists the very laws we say we seek to uphold, it's okay because we're Americans doing it in the name of eradicating terrorism and spreading freedom! - than the one to which we hold non-Americans, thereby conveniently exempting ourselves from compliance with those same constitutional precepts we say we cherish so much even as we circumvent and betray them.
Shahzad said this before being sentenced to life in prison: "...the past nine years the war with Muslims has achieved nothing for the U.S., except for it has waken up the Muslims for Islam. We are only Muslims trying to defend our religion, people, honor, and land. But if you call us terrorists for doing that, then we are proud terrorists, and we will keep on terrorizing until you leave our land and people at peace."
Is anybody listening? If we don't understand what generates and drives terrorism, how will we ever "defeat" it? Acts of terrorism aren't conceived in a vacuum. Until we stop deliberately cultivating violent retaliation for our calculated destruction of non-military targets and escalating slaughter of innocent civilians, terrorism will continue to be a nine-headed hydra: cut off one head, and two will grow back. For every terrorist we kill under the guise of Keeping America Safe, many more will rise up like myrmidons from the plague-stricken earth, cursing us for the previous killing and claiming it as the reason for their remorseless rage. That doesn't sound like terrorism to me as much as it does perfectly predictable human nature.