Friday, March 05, 2010

Obama Administration About To Flip On NYC 9/11 Trials?

After announcing that the Obama Administration and the Justice Department would try al Qaeda terror master Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City courtroom along with four of his minions, claiming that federal court was the proper venue for such trials, the Administration is leaking that the trial option may be shelved in favor of the tribunal system, which I have repeatedly argued was the proper venue all along.
White House advisers are nearing a recommendation for President Barack Obama to choose a military trial for self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his alleged henchman, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The review of where and how to hold a Sept. 11 trial is not over, so no recommendation is yet before the president and Obama has not made a determination of his own, officials said. The review is not likely to be finished this week.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss private deliberations.

The matter is at the White House after Attorney General Eric Holder decided in November to transfer Mohammed and the four other accused terrorists from the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to New York City for civilian trials. Initially supported by city officials, the idea was later opposed because of costs, security and logistical concerns.

When opposition ballooned further into Congress and an attempted Christmas airline bombing brought massive scrutiny to Obama's terrorism policies, the administration said it would review Holder's trial decision and consider all options for a new location.

In addition to local opposition to a trial, the administration faces pressure on its goal of closing Guantanamo on another front. Republicans in Congress have proposed barring prosecutions of terrorism defendants in federal courts or in reformed military commissions located in the United States.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has proposed legislation that would prevent the Obama administration from putting Mohammed and other terrorists on trial in any American community. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by about half the Senate's Republicans and a few Democrats, has made a similar proposal.
These machinations by the Administration are all about symbolism and catering to the political whims of the left wing of the Democrat party and the ACLU which thinks that the tribunals aren't sufficient for the civil liberties of the terrorists, and which sees the existence of Guanatamo Bay's detention facility as an anathema even though it is a humane detention facility that meets and exceeds the Geneva Convention protocols for such detainees.

The Administration never considered the possibility that the local communities in New York wouldn't want to get inconvenienced again by holding trials that would disrupt the fragile local economy that never fully recovered following the 9/11 attacks due to street closures and security restrictions on traffic and movement. It never considered that providing a federal court trial would only allow the terrorists a public platform from which to lambaste the US government and draw attention away from their heinous deeds to what the US did to them. It never considered the huge security costs that it would impose on the City (and any location holding these trials - even as NYC was the proper forum should that have been the decision).

The US government had already established the tribunal system to handle these kinds of cases, with consultation and input from all three branches of government - court cases litigating various matters, negotiations on the authority and scope of tribunals, etc. The tribunals were the proper forum.

Yet, the Administration realized that not all of the Gitmo detainees could be tried in federal court so they acknowledged that nearly 50 of the detainees would go through the tribunal system and several would go into federal courts. Still others would never see the light of day regardless of the findings - and that included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in statements made by the President and AG Eric Holder.

After months of hand wringing and shoddy legal thinking on the part of the Administration, we're heading back to where we started - tribunals for one of the 9/11 terror masters. It comes as little surprise that the ACLU is against a switch back to tribunals, even though the Administration noted that they would be used in some cases regardless of the related legal fallout of detainees suing that they were denied trials by being placed in tribunals.

The Administration claims that they have the authority to make such decisions, and I don't disagree. I just think that they've made a mess of the whole issue and should have left the tribunals as the proper forum for those detainees captured overseas who were not Mirandized and arrested on US soil under US law enforcement standards.

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