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Trial and Terror
The Left gets its reckoning.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

The decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other top al-Qaeda terrorists to New York City for a civilian trial is one of the most irresponsible ever made by a presidential administration. That it is motivated by politics could not be more obvious. That it spells unprecedented danger for our security will soon become obvious.

The five 9/11 plotters were originally charged in a military commission. Military commissions have been approved by Congress and the courts. Eleven months ago, the jihadists were prepared to end the military case by pleading guilty and proceeding to execution. Plus, the Obama administration is continuing the commission system for other enemy combatants accused of war crimes. If we are going to have military commissions for any war criminals, it is senseless not to have them for the worst war criminals. In sum, there is no good legal or policy rationale for transferring these barbarians to the civilian justice system. Doing so will prompt a hugely costly three-ring circus of a trial, provide a soapbox for al-Qaeda’s anti-American bile, and create a public-safety nightmare for New York City.

There is, however, a patent political rationale behind Obama’s decision.

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The terrorists are clearly committed members of the al-Qaeda conspiracy to wage a terrorist war against the United States — so much so that KSM cannot help himself, bragging about his atrocities against our country, including the 9/11 massacre of nearly 3,000 Americans. Further, controversy surrounds the intelligence-collection measures used by the Bush administration after 9/11 — measures such as enhanced interrogation that, though they saved countless lives, have been stridently condemned by the antiwar Left. This antiwar Left, President Obama’s base, has demanded investigations and prosecutions against Bush officials.

The Obama Justice Department teems with experienced defense lawyers, many of whom (themselves personally or through their firms) spent the last eight years volunteering their services to America’s enemies in their lawsuits against the American people. As experienced defense lawyers well know, when there is no mystery about whether the defendants have committed the charged offenses, and when there is controversy attendant to the government’s investigative tactics, the standard defense strategy is to put the government on trial.

That is, Pres. Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, experienced litigators, fully realize that in civilian court, the Qaeda quintet can and will demand discovery of mountains of government intelligence. They will demand disclosures about investigative tactics; the methods and sources by which intelligence has been obtained; the witnesses from the intelligence community, the military, and law enforcement who interrogated witnesses, conducted searches, secretly intercepted enemy communications, and employed other investigative techniques. They will attempt to compel testimony from officials who formulated U.S. counterterrorism strategy, in addition to U.S. and foreign intelligence officers. As civilian “defendants,” these war criminals will put Bush-era counterterrorism tactics under the brightest public spotlight in American legal history.

This is exactly what President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder know will happen. And because it is unnecessary to have this civilian trial at all, one must conclude that this is exactly what Obama and Holder want to see happen.

During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama and his adviser, Holder, rebuked the Bush counterterrorism policies and promised their base a “reckoning.” Since President Obama took office, Attorney General Holder has anxiously shoveled into the public domain classified information relating to those policies — with the administration always at pains to claim that its hand is being forced by court orders, even though the president has had legal grounds, which he has refrained from invoking, to decline to make those disclosures. Moreover, during a trip to Germany in April, Holder signaled his openness to turning over evidence that would assist European investigations — including one underway in Spain — that seek to charge Bush-administration officials with war crimes (which is the transnational Left’s label for actions taken in defense of the United States).

Now, we see the reckoning: Obama’s gratuitous transfer of alien war criminals from a military court, where they were on the verge of ending the proceedings, to the civilian justice system, where they will be given the same rights and privileges as the American citizens they are pledged to kill. This will give the hard Left its promised feast. Its shock troops, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, will gather up each new disclosure and add it to the purported war-crimes case they are urging foreign courts to bring against President Bush, his subordinates, and U.S. intelligence agents.



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