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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants have announced through their lawyers that they intend to plead not guilty to charges of conspiring to perpetrate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Washington area. But Mr. Mohammed and his henchmen aren't denying their involvement in the worst terrorist strike on U.S. soil in American history; on the contrary, they're boasting of their intention to turn the trial in New York into a media circus that will enable them to preach their philosophy of violent jihad to a worldwide audience.

Let them go right ahead. The self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and his accomplices may hope that their antics will undermine U.S. and Western resolve to defeat Islamic extremism and win many new converts to their cause. But we think the spectacle of raving, hate-filled lunatics attempting to justify their crimes through a twisted interpretation of the Quran and a transparently cynical effort to disrupt a scrupulously fair public trial will have exactly the opposite effect.

In deciding to try Mr. Mohammed in a federal court a stone's throw from where the Twin Towers fell, rather than before a military tribunal abroad, U.S. Attorney General Eric. H. Holder rightly insisted that the American criminal justice system was up to the task of bringing the alleged Sept. 11 conspirators to account. To believe otherwise is to concede a moral victory to the terrorists that they could never achieve on the battlefield.

We think a trial in an American court conducted under American rules of criminal procedure can only reaffirm Western faith in core democratic values and institutions. We also think it will prompt Muslims around the world to skeptically regard the militants' claim that killing innocent civilians is somehow in keeping with the teachings of Islam.

Some conservative commentators have criticized Mr. Holder's decision to hold a public trial in New York because it supposedly will give America's enemies a platform to espouse their hateful views. But Mr. Holder also sees it as an opportunity to discredit those views by demonstrating the contradiction between the brutality of the terrorists' methods and the tenets of Islamic law, which strictly prohibits the murder of innocents. Prosecutors doubtless will also argue that even the term "jihad" - roughly defined as the religious duty of all Muslims to "strive in the way of Allah" - has been perverted to suit the militants' self-serving political agenda.

If Mr. Mohammed and his co-defendants think they can make a mockery of American justice with the whole world watching, they are in for a rude surprise. Convincing anyone, let alone a New York jury, that they are anything but common criminals with a monstrous disregard for human life is going to be a lot harder than they think.

Readers respond

The administration wants to demonstrate the "Obama difference" in attitudes about foreign policy and other matters.

To no avail.

If there is a benefit to Mr. Holder's rejection of the already offered guilty pleas by these same defendants at military tribunals in Guantanamo, it is the hope that world opinion will resolve in favor of America.

It's only a wistful hope, because that hasn't happened in the past.

Barry Dennis

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