Government’s capacity to conceal and destroy so much critical evidence presents an extraneous drag on independent research. Yet it is not an insuperable one. A judicial path exists to reveal hidden information via processes and institutions that people still regard as legitimate. Bring prisoners charged with 9/11 crimes to trial. Justice requires it. Guantanamo prisoners engaged in a hunger strike to force the issue. Force feeding of prisoners amounts to grave mistreatment, and the government knows it. It shows its insecurity on this matter every time it defends force feeding as “a humane way to protect the safety of the detainee.” It wants the issue to go away, and it won’t.
Trials for prisoners captured after 9/11 have become entangled with issues of venue. If not a trial in New York City, then where? If not a trial before a military commission, then what court? These issues become important to lawyers, but they also become artificial stumbling blocks. Certainly government officials determined to bring enemies to justice would have found a way to resolve procedural questions by now. The reason it has not done so concerns what would happen in an authentic trial: secrets would get out. If government officials successfully protect their secrets, everyone would see the trial as a sham.
Genuine trials, wherever they are held, observe rules of evidence and procedure that are incompatible with keeping secrets. The entire purpose of a trial is to ascertain the truth about whether a defendant is guilty or innocent of specific charges. You cannot conduct a trial with a guarantee that the truth will stay hidden. Yet the federal government, by its behavior after 9/11, showed that the truth is not something it actually cares to pursue. It wanted to pay off the victims’ families and be done with it. Everyone who received money from the 9/11 victims’ fund had to sign away the right to bring any case related to the crime into court. From September 12 onward, the government has acted to prevent any trials, whether suits brought in New York, or criminal prosecutions before military commissions in Guantanamo.
Nonetheless, with the hunger strikes and force feeding, Guantanamo’s reputation for mistreatment of prisoners, the president’s promise to close the prison, along with the unique pressure people can exert via social media, the time may be good for the 9/11 truth movement to back public trials. The call for a new, independent investigation begins to sound empty if everyone knows the chances of convening such an investigation are so small. The chances for truthful, public trials of 9/11 prisoners may not be much higher, but circumstances have gathered to make these proceedings more likely than they were immediately after 2001.
Everyone who wants to know the truth about what happened on 9/11 might consider criminal proceedings a likely path to more knowledge than we have now. Even if partial knowledge yields less understanding than the full truth, it is valuable nonetheless. Every brick makes the structure whole. Each advance of knowledge and narrative counts as one more step. However imperfect our understanding of the whole story, even a small amount of accurate knowledge outweighs many false beliefs. However imperfect trials of Guantanamo prisoners might be as a method to uncover facts about 9/11, the trials might be worth it. Though trials ought to follow a crime as speedily as possible, these trials may yield the best information we can get at the moment.