A remarkable thing happened today that didn't get the attention it deserved: Five alleged al-Qaeda terrorists who are in custody and most closely linked to the 9/11 attacks -- including the alleged planner of the attack, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- tried to enter guilty pleas at a military commission hearing at Guantanamo.

These terrorists don't just want to die anytime. Although there's virtually no chance this could actually happen, they'd love to die in the next 43 days.

While George W. Bush is still the president of the United States.

Because if anything strikes fear in the hearts of al-Qaeda, it's the things that could happen to them after Barack Obama becomes the commander-in-chief.

It's not torture. Just the opposite. They're afraid of a real, public trial, with regular rules of evidence, in the style of American justice that was once the envy of the world -- a trial that would reveal the slime of al-Qaeda and the sad details of its cowardly slaughter of innocent people on that day seven years ago. A trial that would be conducted on U.S. soil, and not at Gitmo, the symbol of what much of the world now considers to be an American gulag.

Today's

pretty well:

In addition, a move to cut short the proceedings had been seen by some lawyers working in the system here as a way Mr. Mohammed and the other men could draw maximum public attention to their cases and, potentially, to make statements about their political views without the government having the opportunity to detail their acts, including the specifics of the plot that caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, in court.

The American political calendar may also be a factor. Many people inside and outside the government expect President-elect Obama to close down the military commissions that have been used by the Bush administration, and to direct that many detainees now held in Guantánamo Bay be prosecuted instead in the civilian American legal system.

If that indeed happens in the first days of the Obama administration, then Monday’s proceedings will have been the detainees’ last opportunity to challenge the widely criticized system here with guilty pleas that could yield them the opportunity for what they see as martyrdom.

When Obama takes office, his task -- in this aspect of the war on terror -- is a little like the

where George (no pun intended) succeeds by doing "the opposite" of everything that's been done before. Bush got everything backwards -- in circumventing the American justice system to create Gitmo and the system of military tribunals, he and his helpers created a system that not only

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and rallied our enemies, but even gave the terrorists a chance to seek martyrdom within a system that the world sees as morally wrong.

That would recruit more terrorists to their ridiculous cause and thus create more risk to innocent Americans and our allies all over the world -- the kind of risk that Bush and Dick Cheney so foolishly claimed that Guantanamo and its related abuses were reducing. Meanwhile, the family members of 9/11 victims -- like Alice Hoagland, the mother of Flight 93 victim

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, who attended the hearing -- have been denied justice in any kind of legal proceeding in the years since Mohammed was captured. And justice deferred is justice denied.

And now we have pretty clear proof -- from the terrorists' actions today -- that what al-Qaeda really feared all along is what we would have given them before Bush and Cheney tarnished the Oval Office.

A fair trial by jury.