The Guardian and the New York Times (amongst others) are reporting that given information, ahem, gleaned from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, American and Pakistani authorities are now hot on the trail of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile The Times is bluntly raising the prospect of imminent “Nuremberg-style show trials” for the 9/11 masterminds and suggests that that the Bush administration is bracing itself for controversy over this course of action. This is clearly a popular idea in conservative circles. On Thursday, the *New York Sun *reported administration plans for a group trial for al-Qaeda suspects. On Tuesday, an editorial in the Denver Post called for the Bush administration to begin “a major public-education program” to pre-empt any objections to military tribunals by “informing” Americans of how tribunals would work, how the civilian federal court system “failed” in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, and “why military tribunals can be used to achieve the goal of justice.”

“Show trials” and “public education” are not phrases you normally hear in discussions of the judicial systems of western liberal democracies. The administration should be concerned about the perceived legitimacy of tribunals. Given that the foreign policy consensus is that terrorism will be the typical form of warfare in the coming decades, this may be the first of many such trials. The long-term international perception of the legitimacy of these trials will have to be considered. It is time that the legal procedures for future terrorist trials were subjected to more public debate rather than “public education.”