Friday, February 12, 2010

Start Spreading The News

I'm trying to act surprised...
White House officials sought on Friday to stem mounting criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of terrorism cases, saying they would not rule out using a military court to try accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Both Attorney General Eric Holder and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not rule out a military trial when asked about the Obama administration's options.

Trying Mohammed in military court would mark a further political retreat from Holder's announcement last year that the five Sept. 11 suspects now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be tried in federal court in New York.

The Obama administration is trying to head off a possible vote in the Senate that could stop any terror suspects currently held at Guantanamo from being brought to the United States to face a civilian trial. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is offering such legislation, after losing a vote last year on the issue.

At stake is the public's perception of the administration's handling of national security, already shaken last year by strong congressional opposition to transferring any Guantanamo detainees to American soil. A Hill defeat over the trial issue could embolden the GOP minority to raise national security concerns in the midterm elections later this year.

The prospect of such a vote could test of how many moderate Democrats have abandoned Obama on the issue.

White House officials said Friday that Obama and his top advisers will play a direct role in ultimately deciding how to prosecute Mohammed. The administration initially decided to try the five terror defendants in New York but have since appeared to backtrack.
The backtrack is effectively an admission that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department screwed this up royally. The President is seeing bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill that threatens to cut off funding for the trials, and that's before we consider that NYC politicians like Mayor Bloomberg are vehemently opposed to this decision.

Does this have a parallel to health care? Only in so far as the message sucked, yet again, and the substance was lacking behind it. The message sucked because the rationale never made sense, but also because the rationale being employed seemed to be that New Yorkers should suck it up and be brave. That's hard point to try to assert to people based on what is alleged to be principle, particularly when some people doubt the principle and others doubt your sincereity. The other issue with the message was that the Adminsitration kept saying that KSM would be found guilty and likely executed -- that's perfectly fine, but it seems to be in conflict with the idea that he's going to get a fair trial when they seem pre-ordained to the outcome (in principle, it's okay to have confidence in your case, but selling this as a fair trial politically is a lot tougher if you insist he will be found guilty. If so, why not just do a military tribunal anyway? It's not like there's a danger of convicting an inncoent man, is there?

I don't think anyone in the Administration outlined why KSM needed to be tried in a civilian criminal court, let alone why it needed to happen in NYC. If the military tribunal system in place works (and Holder and Company haven't said that it won't work), then it's hard to understand why KSM, of all people, gets a civilian trial.

Unless, of course, the AG wanted to try the case in civilian court for political reasons, like potentially exposing the methods used to interrogate KSM, which could lead to criminal charges against interrogators and Bush Adminsitration officials. Unfortunately, that looks like the most logical explanation.

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