The Washington Post reports that roughly 75 terrorist suspects may remain under U.S. detention indefinitely and without trial, a continuation of Bush-era policies that have infuriated civil libertarians. Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a civil rights lawyer by training, connects the move to President Obama's much-touted decision to try Khaleid Shaikh Mohammed and other terrorists in federal courts in New York City. Greenwald has long called for civilian trials of terrorists, which he, like Obama, says will demonstrate the virtue of the legal system. But Greenwald asks, is that system and the good we hope to do with terrorist trials still legitimate when we permanently detain 75 suspects without trial?
During his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, [Attorney General] Eric Holder struggled all day to justify his decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial because he has no coherent principle to invoke. He can't possibly defend the sanctity of jury trials in our political system -- the most potent argument justifying what he did -- since he's the same person who is simultaneously denying trials to Guantanamo detainees by sending them to military commissions and even explicitly promising that some of them will be held without charges of any kind.
Once you endorse the notion that the Government has the right to imprison people not captured on any battlefield without giving them trials -- as the Obama administration is doing explicitly and implicitly -- what convincing rationale can anyone offer to justify giving Mohammed and other 9/11 defendants a real trial in New York? If you're taking the position that military commissions and even indefinite detention are perfectly legitimate tools to imprison people -- as Holder has done -- then what is the answer to the Right's objections that Mohammed himself belongs in a military commission? If the administration believes Omar Khadr belongs in a military commission, and if they believe others can be held indefinitely without any charges, why isn't that true of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? By denying jury trials to a large number of detainees, Obama officials have completely gutted their own case for why they did the right thing in giving Mohammed a trial in New York.
Greenwald's strong belief in civil liberties compels him to see such compromises as self-defeating and hypocritical. That he holds the Obama administration, and himself, to such a high standard demonstrates that Greenwald is the most dedicated civil libertarian among pundits.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.