Marcus sets Gerson straight

MARCUS SETS GERSON STRAIGHT…. In his Washington Post column this week, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson makes some fairly predictable attacks against the Obama administration for, among other things, deciding to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court.

Gerson labels Attorney General Eric Holder “the most destructive member” of the president’s cabinet, before characterizing the looming trial as a “circus,” in which “intelligence sources and methods” will be aired. The conservative columnist, who apparently no longer worries about his credibility or stature, insists that the attorney general rejects the idea of a “war with terrorists,” and “seems determined to undermine” those who believe the war on terror should continue.

This kind of palaver has become tiresome and pointless, and it’s tempting to just ignore it. But the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus did something unusual yesterday: she pushed back hard against one of her own colleagues. (thanks to D.D. for the tip)

First, on the merits of the decision to try Mohammed in federal court rather than through a military tribunal. Note to Mike: They have the presumption of innocence in tribunals, too. Unlike O.J.’s, federal trials, for better or worse, aren’t televised, and federal judges are no Lance Ito. Any experienced federal judge can prevent Mohammed from using the trial as a soapbox, and, as Steven Simon points out in the New York Times, the better bet is that the propaganda bonanza would be to our advantage, not the jihadists’.

Federal law contains sufficient safeguards to protect sources and methods, and you can be sure that the Justice Department made a careful assessment that it could obtain a conviction without harmful disclosure. The risk of acquittal is negligible, although I think that word may be overstating things. More important, even if Mohammed were somehow acquitted, it’s not as if he would saunter off to brunch in Tribeca. He’d no doubt be indicted and held on other charges, or preventively detained. […]

Second, on Gerson’s mind-reading derogation of Holder. To suggest that the attorney general makes difficult legal decisions on the basis of ideological predispositions is not only a slur; it ignores the many times Holder’s decisions (using military commissions, invoking the state secrets privilege, denying habeas corpus relief to detainees in Afghanistan, to name just a few) have discomfited liberal allies. There is a distinction — one Gerson and company choose to ignore — between treating terrorism as solely a law enforcement problem and using the techniques of law enforcement as one of many routes to combat and punish terrorism.

Marcus concludes that Gerson’s screed went “beyond the pale.”

This may make for some awkward moments around the WaPo water cooler, but I’m glad to see it anyway. Gerson, among other Post columnists, writes cheap columns with baseless attacks against those who happen to be in a different political party. The more he’s called out for his errors of fact and judgment by his own colleagues, the better.