Attorney General Eric Holder delivered his anticipated press conference this afternoon, to announce that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be tried in military court after all, despite Holder’s declared preference for trying him in a civilian court – ideally in New York City, near the scene of his crimes.
This is a major reversal for the Obama Administration. Holder was surprisingly, and visibly, unhappy about it. He offered a few dusty rhetorical bones about “respecting the ability” of others to “disagree,” but became much more animated when he complained about the “needless” controversy surrounding his decision. In a sound bite that is sure to become more famous than he wants it to be, Holder asked himself if he “knows better” than his critics, and replied with a firm “yes.”
“As the indictment unsealed today reveals,” Holder asserted, “we were prepared to bring a powerful case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four co-conspirators… one of the most well-researched and documented cases I have ever seen in my decades of experience as a prosecutor.” How much time and money was wasted on preparing this “powerful case” against an unlawful combatant who confessed to his crimes?
“I am confident that our justice system could have performed with the same distinction that has been its hallmark for over 200 years,” he continued, before lamenting the “unwise and unwarranted restrictions” Congress has imposed against bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial in the United States. That sounds a lot better if you can make yourself forget Holder’s abject failure in his last attempt at a civilian trial for a terrorist, which resulted in a murderous thug skating out of the courtroom with convictions for aggravated vandalism.
Holder tried posturing as the avenging angel of 9/11 families, and claiming to be insulted at the affront to “our time honored and time tested system of justice.” If our primary concern was swift satisfaction for the 9/11 families and just punishment for those who murdered their loved ones, we would have stuck KSM and his cronies on top of a burning building years ago, and given them a choice between jumping to their deaths or dying in the flames.
As for our civil court system, it renders no insult to observe that unlawful enemy combatants have no place within it. That sounds an awful lot like a crude implementation of the classic Obama Straw Man strategy, as part of a political sermon about how the eeeeevil Republicans in Congress are preventing Holder from winning the ultimate victory over terrorism in front of a civilian jury.
There’s nothing complicated about the job Eric Holder was sent out to do today. His boss does not want to run for re-election with a $400 million legal circus dominating the headlines – and God forbid those millions in security precautions weren’t good enough. Holder claimed there is “no other tool” as powerful in the War on Terror as our civilian courts… but we’re not going to use this ultimate tool, because we’ve got to get Barack Obama re-elected.
The Attorney General needed to do nothing more today than deliver the usual bromides about “changing strategy” after “careful reflection.” If he’s angry about being made into the fall guy for the latest Obama flip-flop, he could have expressed it through the traditional round of anonymous leaks. If he was truly outraged by this terrible offense to his deeply-held principles, he could have resigned today. Instead, he complained about how needless it was for us to criticize the decision he is running away from.