News broke this morning that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will be tried in federal court in New York. Civil liberties groups have been very critical the Obama administration's handling of terrorism detainees, blasting the use of military commissions and accusing Obama of condoning a policy of indefinite detention, but today's announcement is a big victory.
It comes with a bit of a political risk: it's has already drawn criticism from the likes of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who called the decision "irresponsible" and suggested it presents a security risk. Earlier this year, House Republicans made Guantanamo a big part of their platform (see this video)--the message being that closing the prison, as Obama plans to do, makes America less safe, and that we shouldn't bring terrorists to U.S. soil--and they succeeded in knocking some Democrats off their support for the prison's closure, throwing into question whether Congress would provide the funds to shut it down.
It will surely draw more fire from Republicans throughout the day. (Obama, meanwhile, is in Japan.)
But the ACLU praised it as a victory for justice and America's global standing, even as it criticized the administration for how it's handled other detainees. From a press release the ACLU put out this morning:
"The transfer of cases to federal court is a huge victory for restoring due process and the rule of law, as well as repairing America's international standing, an essential part of ensuring our national security. We can now finally achieve the real and reliable justice that Americans deserve. It would have been an enormous blow to American values if we had tried these defendants in a process riddled with legal problems," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.
"However, it's disappointing that the administration has chosen to prosecute some Guantánamo detainees in the unsalvageable military commissions system. Time and again the federal courts have proven themselves capable of handling terrorism cases while protecting both American values and sensitive national security information. Justice can only be served in our tried and true courts."
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