Is Obama Backing Down on Terrorist Trials?

Political pressure is mounting

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The Obama administration's decision in November to bring Khaleid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged "mastermind" of the Sept. 11 attacks, to civilian trial in New York started a slow-boil of political opposition that may now have reached intolerable levels for the White House. In a carefully worded article, The Washington Post reports that "Obama's advisers are nearing a recommendation" to try KSM and others in a military tribunal rather than civilian court.

Although civilian trials were favored by the Bush administration, and military tribunals have a poor record of securing convictions, Obama-era Republicans staunchly demand the tribunals for alleged terrorists. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has taken the lead on the issue, offering to vote in favor of closing Guantanamo if Obama were to acquiesce on civilian trials. If the Washington Post story is accurate, and if Obama accepts the recommendation, would his reversal be about issues of national security or political expediency?

  • Civil Libertarians Will Revolt  Liberal blogger Charles Lemos warns, "If true the decision is another hard to believe reversal by the Obama Administration and one which civil libertarians simply cannot endorse. It is a deep blow to the rule of law and a betrayal of the principles upon which this country was founded." He adds, "On a personal note I'll add that Khalid Sheik Mohammed is also the self-confessed murderer of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reported killed in Karachi in January of 2002 and one of my closest friends from college. I have long wanted to see Danny's murderer brought to justice but at no time I have been prepared to sacrifice the rights of Khalid Sheik Mohammed that Western jurisprudence affords him."
  • Just a Trial Balloon  Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch doesn't buy it. "[Washington Post] story looks to me more like a trial balloon than a decision ('if' he 'accepts likely recommendations'). Shoot it down." But what if Obama goes through with the reversal? "Military tribunals? If true, sad and pathetic."
  • Will This Really Secure Gitmo Closing?  Conservative blogger Melissa Clouthier doesn't think it's possible. "The issues still remain: scary terrorists on American soil. Americans don't want them here. Giving KSM a military trial will only seem like a common-sense solution to a dumb decision in the first place. Closing Guantanamo is also perceived as a dumb decision. It's not like a military tribunal changes that for the American people."
  • Obama Betrays Eric Holder  Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin calls Attorney General Eric Holder, who strongly favors civilian trials, the political victim of the White House. "Congress is tied up with health care. And now, the White House is retreating in the face of vigilant, unrelenting pressure from 9/11 families and national security groups. AG Eric Holder, meet the undercarriage of Barack Obama's bus. Thumpity-thump."
  • A Phony Political Game  National Review's Andrew McCarthy thinks Obama is just "pretending" to give up on trials in order to get GOP support on Gitmo. "President Obama is not caving on military commissions. He has already caved on them ... The real agenda here is to close Gitmo. That's the ball to keep your eye on. The Post is trying to soften the opposition to shuttering the detention camp by portraying beleaguered, reasonable Obama as making a great compromise that will exasperate the Left."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.