TRADING TRIBUNALS FOR GITMO CLOSURE?…. I try not to jump to conclusions based on reports like these. Officials sometimes make strategic leaks to influence a debate that hasn’t been completed, hoping to force a president’s hand while internal deliberations are still underway.
That said, if this is true, it’s exceedingly disappointing.
President Obama’s advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.
The president’s advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said. While Obama has favored trying some terrorism suspects in civilian courts as a symbol of U.S. commitment to the rule of law, critics have said military tribunals are the appropriate venue for those accused of attacking the United States.
If Obama accepts the likely recommendation of his advisers, the White House may be able to secure from Congress the funding and legal authority it needs to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and replace it with a facility within the United States.
Maybe if congressional Democrats hadn’t spent the last year cowering whenever national security came up, and threatening to side with Republicans on cutting off funding for trials and Gitmo closure, the president would be in a better position to do the right thing.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it seems the president is poised to do the wrong thing, almost certainly because of congressional pressure, polls, and baseless criticism from the right-wing.
David Kurtz had a good item on the politics of this earlier today.
If the White House retreats from a civilian trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the others, not only is it terribly weak optics in the short run, but it cements in the public mind for the long term all the worst fears Republicans have not just been able to sow, but will continue to sow.
Think of the worst possible scenario for what would have happened to New York City, no matter how remote, then insert that into a campaign ad. There’s no way to disprove what might have been. Human nature will be to focus on the bullet that we supposedly dodged. Whereas if you actually suck it up and proceed with the trial, it takes all the wind of out that sail. People still go to work, buildings don’t fall down, the ground doesn’t open up and swallow Manhattan. Democrats show they’re strong and resolute and the issue goes away.