President Obama’s advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.
The president’s advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said. While Obama has favored trying some alleged terrorists in civilian courts as a symbol of U.S. commitment to the rule of law, critics have said military tribunals are the appropriate venue for those accused of attacking the United States.
If Obama accepts the likely recommendation of his advisers, the White House may be able to secure from Congress the funding and legal authority it needs to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and replace it with a facility within the United States. The administration has failed to meet a self-imposed one-year deadline to close Guantanamo.
The administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the president’s legal advisers are finalizing their review of the cases of Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators. Asked about the process, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “no decisions have been made.”
Privately, administration officials are bracing for the ire of disappointed liberals and even some government lawyers should the administration back away from promises to use civilian courts to adjudicate the cases of some of the 188 detainees who remain at Guantanamo.
The story goes on to mention that the security costs for the trial were underestimated, as was the fervent nature of the bipartisan opposition from New York politicians to having the trial in New York. Of course, because of this change, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the other defendants have to be re-arraigned, as the report indicates. We are told that “it wouldn’t take long” to get the case back to where it is now, but that doesn’t make matters any less frustrating, given that the Administration could have opted for a military tribunal from the very beginning. Plans for trying other defendants in civilian courts have been thrown up in the air as well.
For the Administration, the supposed upside of this deal is that it might make it easier to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay if the change in venue for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the other defendants goes through. But a mere change in venue does not necessarily mean that the prison at Guantanamo will be closed; indeed, given the chaos that has thus far attended the implementation of the Administration’s wishes concerning detention and interrogation policy, I would not be surprised if the closure of the prison is kicked further down the road. And why shouldn’t it be? Having finally acknowledged Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and his co-defendants ought to face a military tribunal, the Obama Administration may decide that the trial ought to be held at Guantanamo Bay.
At the very least, it appears that the President and members of his Administration are beginning to realize that the issues concerning detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects are not as cut and dried as then-Senator Obama and his fellow Democrats made them out to be in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections. Yeah, I know that it was a source of endless giggles mocking George W. Bush for his handling of issues that Team Obama thought could be resolved with the merest flexing of the 44th President’s frontal lobe. But life in the Oval Office is a little tougher than the 44th President and his White House thought, now isn’t it?