Will Obama Really Give Up on KSM Trial Without a Fight?

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Friday, March 05, 2010 at 8:50 am

The Washington Post is pretty sure that Obama’s advisers are congealing around abandoning Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court. Apparently President Obama has yet to make a decision. If he goes back to the military commissions for KSM and the other 9/11 conspirators — military charges against them were dropped in late January — Obama won’t just be abandoning the civilian courts. He’ll be abandoning a winnable political battle on a matter of principle.

Attorney General Eric Holder has gone very far out in recent weeks to defend the principle of civilian trials for terrorists. “If Giuliani was still the U.S. Attorney in New York, my guess is that, by now, I would already have gotten ten phone calls from him telling me why these cases needed to be tried not only in civilian court but at Foley Square,” Holder told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, adding that he was “distressed” that people “who know better” were demagogically and speciously claiming civilian courts are incapable of trying terrorists. As the fight over the KSM trial — no longer hypothetical after New York rejected holding it at the Foley Square courthouse — intensified, so did Holder, putting up webpages touting the courts’ superior record of convicting terrorists. Sensing the heat from conservatives, Obama’s other senior aides followed suit. John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, noted in USA Today that “there have been three convictions of terrorists in the military tribunal system since 9/11, and hundreds in the criminal justice system,” a point Vice President Biden amplified on the Sunday chat shows. Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed Holder in a letter to Congress last week, and his defense budget request put the money for closing Guantanamo Bay and moving terrorists to the U.S. — the only substantive congressional hurdle for any trials, military or civilian — in the Afghanistan war funding request, the most politically unstoppable budget line the government has.

The opposing argument, made by Rahm Emanuel, is a political one. (And apparently not shared by David Axelrod.) It’s that the trial is a political headache and the cost of closing Guantanamo Bay, another administration priority, is the vote of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — and the cost of Graham’s vote is to try KSM in a military commission. Graham showed his utility to the administration yesterday, going to bat for Obama’s right to try at least some terrorism detainees in civilian court after his close political allies, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), released a bill providing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects.

What Obama will actually gain by siding with Emanuel and Graham over his national-security team and his law-enforcement team is, to say the least, less than clear. Graham’s ability to bring Republicans on board to any Obama initiative is dubious — even for a legal architecture for handling terrorism that already embraces huge swaths of the Bush agenda. Recall that Obama compromised from the start in May by embracing revised versions of the military commissions system, and even reserving the right to hold suspects indefinitely without trial, over the objections of civil libertarians. That didn’t earn him any GOP votes, nor did it quiet the chorus on the right that Obama’s very presidency endangers the country. Even Graham, as reasonable and civic-minded a Republican Senator as there is, decided to test Obama’s willingness to move to the right. Telling any paper he could find that he and Emanuel were working on a GTMO-for-KSM trade, Graham added a new criteria for his vote in a Wall Street Journal interview: Obama also needed to establish a new system of national security courts.
The pattern couldn’t be clearer. Every time Obama compromises on a matter of national-security and civil-liberties principle, his GOP opponents raise the pressure to get him to bend further. His compromises earn him no good will. He is being, simply, punked. And if he compromises on KSM, does he really think the Guantanamo Bay votes will roll in; or will he simply have enough to break a potential filibuster around the Afghanistan war funding request? Obama can fight and win. Or he can compromise, demoralize his base, and the GOP will continue to roll him.

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Comments

12 Comments

Obama Playing Politics with KSM Trial – Poorly » Press
Pingback posted March 5, 2010 @ 10:34 am

[...] Read the Washington Independent story Posted by gnunews at 10:34 am Tagged with: obama, President Obama 1 views [...]


Military Trial’s For 9/11 Plotters Considered « Read NEWS
Pingback posted March 5, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

[...] Lieberman Attempt to Ban Civilian Trials for ‘Enemy Combatants’ — FOX NewsWill Obama Really Give Up on KSM Trial Without a Fight? — Washington IndependentKSM Trial Reversal Will Be ‘Death Blow’ to Obama DOJ, ACLU Says [...]


unconquerable something or other « unconquerable gladness
Pingback posted March 5, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

[...] 5, 2010 · Leave a Comment ackerman: Every time Obama compromises on a matter of national-security and civil-liberties principle, his [...]


fradiavolo
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

When has the Chickenshit-in-Chief ever fought for anything? This White House has caving down to a fine art.


Military Trial’s For 9/11 Plotters Considered « Read NEWS
Pingback posted March 5, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

[...] Lieberman Attempt to Ban Civilian Trials for ‘Enemy Combatants’ — FOX NewsWill Obama Really Give Up on KSM Trial Without a Fight? — Washington IndependentKSM Trial Reversal Will Be ‘Death Blow’ to Obama DOJ, ACLU Says [...]


Advisers to Recommend Trying KSM in Military Commissions | NEWS Gate
Pingback posted March 5, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

[...] giving up on the KSM trial would represent a triumph of politics over principle. Lindsey Graham has been reportedly negotiating with Rahm Emanuel over some “Grand [...]


Gerald Vandergrift
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

Obama is the weakest Democratic President anyone alive can remember. He makes Jimmy Carter look like Vince Lombardi.


strangely_enough
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

“Will Obama Really Give Up on [anything Wall Street, PhRMA, the Blue Dogs, the GOP, Rahm, any Cheney, or Lindsay Graham doesn't want] Without a Fight?”

The discernible answer seems to grow daily…


Sreedhar
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

We should pour as much scorn if not more on the Democratic legislators who opposed trying KSM in New York.

FDR once said something to the effect of – “I agree with you, I am eager to do what you ask me to. Now make me do it.”

I don't indent to defend Obama's actions, but consider this: when it's clear that Democratic legislators would actively work to oppose him on this issue, why would any rational individual antagonize them and stand to lose even the Health Care issue?


strangely_enough
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

Because he's the President, they're our laws and what we stand for, and meaningful health care reform was never going to happen.
If our legal tradition is hostage to a huge windfall for the insurance industry, we've already lost our country.


President Lindsey Graham Soon to Announce New Terror Tribunals [War On Terror] | Trendy Gossip
Pingback posted March 6, 2010 @ 7:32 am

[...] thing they’re sacrificing their principles to win the qualified support of one Republican Senator who actually has… Maybe if Obama just keeps compromising with people, Republicans will stop attacking him completely, [...]


woodworking project plans
Comment posted October 28, 2010 @ 7:38 am

Attorney General Eric Holder has gone very far out in recent weeks to defend the principle of civilian trials for terrorists.


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