The Obama administration seems ready to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try Khaled Sheik Mohammed (KSM) and his co-defendants in a civilian court and return the matter to a military tribunal. This would be such a bad decision on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. First, Obama will never be able to satisfy his Republican critics. If Obama agrees to a military tribunal his critics will insist that it take place in Guantanamo. (And the odds that Guantanamo closes by the end of the Obama administration are going down steadily.) If the tribunal is held in Guantanamo they will insist that evidence gathered under torture be admitted. If the Obama administration concedes on everything, his critics will just say why don’t we just do away with all these formalities and just assemble a firing squad and be done with it? Obama will not win. But far more importantly, this will legitimize military tribunals for any similar case in the future. Obama will mumble something about the limited scope of the military tribunals he is authorizing, but all it would take would be another Republican president to vastly expand the scope of military tribunals for all sorts of cases. The Bush-Cheney administration has won, and the rule of law in this country has been permanently damaged.
But Republicans will be Republicans, and easily cowed Democrats will be easily cowed Democrats. I want to focus on the real culprits in this, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the other NYC politicians who decided in a narrow NIMBY-ish fashion, despite the large number of civilian terrorist trials in recent years, that trying KSM would create to many traffic jams in Foley Square and so on. (And I don’t have a sense that Bloomberg’s decision is wildly unpopular with the average NYCer.) But, of course, if NYC doesn’t want to risk a civilian trial, why would any other municipality in the country want a trial that NYC thought was too dangerous? The logic will lead to a military trial in a military base, sure as shooting. It is Bloomberg’s decision to oppose civilian trials, and the acquiescence of all major NYC politicians, as far as I am aware, to go along, that has forced the easily forced hand of Obama. New York City politicians have done a grave disservice to the nation, and in real sense, to the entire world