Home > Law, Politics, War > Change We Can Believe In, XVI

Change We Can Believe In, XVI

Change We Can Believe In: Fear Trumps the Rule of Law

I’m a little late getting to this, because of our trip to New York, and by now what needs to be said has been said widely elsewhere.

On Monday, Attorney General Holder announced

that the Obama administration “will prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other people accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks before a military commission and not a civilian court, as it once planned. …

[This shift] marked a significant moment of capitulation in the Obama administration’s largely frustrated effort to dismantle counterterrorism architecture left behind by former President George W. Bush. President Obama, in one of his first initiatives, had announced his intention to close the Guantánamo prison in a year, a goal that he failed to fulfill.

Mr. Holder said Monday that he stood by his judgment that it made more sense, based on the facts and evidence of the case, to try Mr. Mohammed, described as the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and the four others in a federal court.

The NYT editorial page didn’t pull its punches the next day, in an editorial titled Cowardice Blocks the 9/11 Trial:

On Monday, Mr. Holder’s dream for demonstrating the power of the American court system crumbled when he announced that the trial would take place not in New York City or anywhere in the United States but before a military commission at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

That retreat was a victory for Congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which failed to stand up to it.

The wound inflicted on New York City from Mr. Mohammed’s plot nearly a decade ago will not heal for many lifetimes, yet the city, while still grieving, has thrived. How fitting it would have been to put the plot’s architect on trial a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, to force him to submit to the justice of a dozen chosen New Yorkers, to demonstrate to the world that we will not allow fear of terrorism to alter our rule of law.

But, apparently, there are many who continue to cower, who view terrorists as much more fearsome than homegrown American mass murderers and the American civilian jury system as too “soft” to impose needed justice. The administration of George W. Bush encouraged this view for more than seven years, spreading a notion that terror suspects only could be safely held and tried far from our shores at Guantánamo and brought nowhere near an American courthouse. The federal courts have, in fact, convicted hundreds of terrorists since 9/11. And federal prisons safely hold more than 350 of them.

. . . Monday’s announcement represents a huge missed opportunity to prove the fairness of the federal court system and restore the nation’s reputation for providing justice for all.

Shortly after Holder’s announcement, Jane Mayer wrote:

Today’s news that K.S.M. is slated now for a military commission in the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, rather than facing a criminal trial in the civilian justice system that Holder believed was more fitting, may indeed be the defining moment for the Obama Justice Department, defining it, unfortunately, as incapable of standing up to to the political passions still stirred by the threat of terrorism.

Holder and some of the smartest prosecutors in the country had prepared what they believed was the strongest case possible against K.S.M. Lawyers involved in the effort told me they had spent years on it, and had files filled with killer evidence, just waiting for trial. Careers had been devoted to compiling an impeccable case. By using the civilian justice system, Holder had wanted to send several important messages, among them that terrorists are criminals, not some new breed of super warrior, and that the U.S. legal system is the strongest, fairest, and most credible system in the world. A guilty verdict arrived at in front of the world, in a public trial, with ordinary citizens sitting in judgment of K.S.M., would be internationally accepted as legitimate, in a way that no military tribunal ever will be. Or so the thinking went.

Despite Holder’s defiant reiteration today of his preference for trying K.S.M. in the federal courts, human-rights advocates were critical. “The administration has gone to great lengths to defend its authority to make these decisions, but has done little to exercise it,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said. “Holder’s defense of executive prerogative today is stirring, but it comes too late without White House backing. The administration had months to act before Congress tied its hands on this. It failed to do so. There’s no substitute for leadership on this issue—and it has to come from the top. Without it, you get what we have today: capitulation to the agenda of fear.”

Obama left Holder high and dry, choosing the politics of fear over the rule of law.

Advertisements
Categories: Law, Politics, War
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: