In Reversal, 9/11 Plotter to Be Tried by Military Panel
By Charlie Savage
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, ending a year of indecision with a major reversal, will prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, before a military commission and not a civilian court, as it had once planned.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce on Monday afternoon that he has cleared military prosecutors at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to file war-crime charges against Mr. Mohammed and four others accused in the Sept. 11 case. Mr. Holder had decided in November 2009 to move the case to a federal civilian courtroom in New York City, but a political backlash shut down that plan.
The move was foreshadowed by stiffening Congressional resistance to bringing Guantánamo detainees into the United States and by other recent announcements clearing the way for new tribunal trials. Still, it is a significant moment of capitulation in the larger collapse of the Obama administration’s effort — begun with fanfare in its opening days in office — to roll back the counterterrorism architecture left behind by former President George W. Bush.
More at the link.
I’d point out here that the eleventy-first Congress, controlled by Democrats, cut off funds for President Obama’s plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo, in May of 2009, and attached a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act passed in December of 2010 prohibiting the use of federal funds to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States for civilian trials.
Updated: It seems that Attorney General Eric Holder is upset that our elected representatives had something to say about this.
Eric Holder Lashes Out At Congress Over Decision To Try KSM In Military Tribunal
WASHINGTON — After announcing it would try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged conspirators by military commission rather than in a civilian trial, the Obama administration quickly scapegoated Congress to explain the decision.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that his department was scrapping its November 2009 decision to hold Mohammed’s high-profile trial just blocks from the World Trade Center. Instead, they were moving the venue to Guantanamo Bay. Holder and other administration officials said the policy reversal was due to congressional interference in executive counterterrorism efforts and “needless” drumming-up of controversy.
“The reality is, I know this case in ways that members of Congress do not,” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference. “I have looked at the files. I have spoken to the prosecutors. I know the tactical concerns that have to go into this decision. So do I know better than them? Yes.”
And the Members of Congress know the realities of the situation and their responsibilities to their constituents better than Mr Holder. It’s just so terrible that our elected representatives got in your way, but, gosh darn it all, that’s what happens in a democracy sometimes.
The attorney general said had not arrived at the decision comfortably. Had he had his druthers, Holder claimed, he would have kept the trial in its original setting, but the legislative branch controls the money for transferring the prisoners and securing the site.
The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 prohibits use of funds to transfer defendants from Guantanamo Bay to the United States. In a file dismissing the indictment of Mohammed and the four alleged conspirators sent to the Southern District of New York on Monday morning, members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office pointed to the act as the prohibitive restriction preventing a federal trial.
Well, if the Attorney General is all that upset about it, he can always resign. But, Mr Holder’s sensibilities didn’t cause him to resign in November of 2009, either:
Administration officials say they expect that as many as 40 of the 215 detainees at Guantanamo will be tried in federal court or military commissions. About 90 others have been cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country, and about 75 more have been deemed too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted because of evidentiary issues and limits on the use of classified material.
Why is the Attorney General upset in the first place? In November of 2009, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that even if Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was acquitted, he would not be released, but held indefinitely:
Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged on Wednesday a previously unspoken proviso to the controversial decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators in a federal court in New York: even if the defendants are somehow acquitted, they will still stay behind bars.
Holder’s comments at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee would seem to turn the criminal-justice system on its head. The whole point of a criminal trial is to determine guilt—and if the government fails to make its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant walks free.
At least that’s the way the system usually works.
But pressed today by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, about what might happen “if, by some one in a million fluke, one of the defendants were acquitted,” Holder responded in effect that they won’t be released.
First, he noted, Congress has already barred any Guantánamo detainees from being released inside the United States. But then, pressed again about what would happen “if one of these terrorists” in the future were found not guilty or given a short sentence, Holder agreed that the Justice Department would still retain the authority to lock them up as enemy combatants.
“I certainly think that under the regime that we are contemplating, the potential for detaining people under the laws of war, we would retain that ability,” Holder said.
What the heck is the purpose of whining that the Congress is forcing the military tribunal decision on the Administration, if the Administration has already decided that the prisoners won’t be released regardless of the outcome of the trial?
C’mon, Mr Holder, show us just how committed you are here, and resign with dignity.
If you have any, that is.