Politics is usually about compromise, so we should savor those rare policy decisions for which every consideration—justice, morality, practicality—is neatly aligned. The Trump administration has a chance this week to reverse itself and get one such decision right. There are indications that it will.
The underlying facts offer little to savor. The Islamic State kidnapped and murdered four Americans in 2014 and 2015. Some of the people responsible for those crimes are dead: Mohammed Emwazi—who allegedly held the knife that killed the journalists James Foley, 40, and Steven Sotloff, 31, and an aid worker, Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig, 26—was killed in a drone strike in 2015; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State and its rapist in chief, was killed last year. Another hostage, Kayla Jean Mueller, 26, was held separately, kept as a sex slave of Baghdadi and then murdered. Two more alleged members of the kidnapping cell, both British-born like Emwazi, are in custody in Iraq. Testimony from surviving hostages ties them to the cell, and they have spoken publicly from prison in ways that implicate them further. The United States can bring them to trial in federal court, probably the Eastern District of Virginia, whenever it likes.
The sticking point is that the Trump administration is interested in killing them, and the British government, like many other states that have abolished the death penalty, refuses to cooperate in other governments’ prosecution of capital cases. The two men, Alexanda Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, are beneficiaries of this disagreement. Britain has evidence against them and refuses to share it unless the United States pledges not to execute them.