DEFINE ‘MISTAKE’…. When it comes to civilian criminal trials for suspected terrorists, one of the common retorts from the Obama administration is that officials are simply doing now what they were doing during the Bush/Cheney era. The rhetorical benefit is obvious — Republicans thought Bush/Cheney were right, so they have no grounds to whine now.

It’s interesting, then, to see GOP leaders change course and say Bush/Cheney was wrong, too.

The leading Republican in the Senate said Sunday that the previous Republican administration had been mistaken in ever trying alleged terrorists in civilian federal courts.

“The only time [the Obama] administration ever cites the previous administration for a precedent is to mention that there were some terrorists tried in U.S. courts,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Sunday on State of the Union.

“We now know that was a mistake,” declared McConnell. “That was a mistake by the previous administration.”

Just so we’re clear, the Senate Minority Leader now believes Bush/Cheney wasn’t far enough to the right when it came to dealing with terrorist suspects.

But I’m also trying to wrap my head around McConnell’s policy assessment: “We now know that was a mistake.” We do? Why?

As far as I can tell, we know no such thing. In the Bush/Cheney era, dangerous terrorists like Zacarious Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Wahid el-Hage, Mohammed Sadiq Odeh, Mohammed Rashed al-Owhali, and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed were all brought to justice through the federal justice system. During the Clinton/Gore era, terrorists like Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Sheik Oma Abdel Rahman, and others were also brought to justice through the federal justice system. Literally hundreds of terrorists have been tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned the exact same way. Not one has ever escaped, or used their trial to spread propaganda.

At what point, exactly, did McConnell determine that the status quo is a “mistake”? And why hasn’t he said anything sooner?

What President Obama is proposing is that the United States continue to do what it’s been doing, consistently and effectively. The Obama approach is, quite literally, routine, Republican bed-wetting notwithstanding.

Post Script: When McConnell made the rather absurd claim, CNN’s John King didn’t do any follow-up. “We now know that was a mistake” was aired without scrutiny, as if it were a sensible thing to say. The opposite is true, but viewers weren’t made aware of that.

Update: In 2006, George W. Bush proclaimed that terrorists should be “tried in courts here in the United States.” McConnell, like the rest of the Republican establishment, said nothing at the time. If Obama said the identical words, they’d be apoplectic.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.