Today in an announcement that will have significant implications across the spectrum, Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, stated that the master mind and 4 other men tied to the September 11 attack on the U.S. will be tried in civilian court in New York City. This decision which many have expected for weeks confirms the fears of many Americans that Obama and key members of his administration view the horrific event as a criminal matter and not related to a war, and in particular, a war of terror. The Obama administration seems to be unable to define what a terrorist act is and to deal with it properly. This is in contrast to the majority of Americans who viewed the wanton destruction of innocent American lives in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania as clearly acts of a Jihad war against the U.S.
The alleged master mind of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has already testified at a hearing at the military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to his guilt in the deaths on nearly 3,000 Americans. During his testimony, he also proclaimed his desire to kill more Americans and justified his role in the attack. He will now have a pulpit and another opportunity to espouse his hate and to seek to expose his vile and distorted view of humanity, the importance of Jihad and the incontrovertible truths of Islam. His fellow defendants who will join him in a New York court room will have the same access to a justice system that has been, until this announcement, reserved for trying non-war related crimes and legal matters. One of the requirements will be empanelling an impartial jury. This will be an interesting process and fraught with prosecutorial risk as defense attorneys have the skill to use this area to have judgments overturned.
Holder indicated that his prosecutors have the prerogative to and expects them to seek the death penalty against the men. However, commentators and many Americans will quickly and rightfully question what is the benefit to be gained by the country by taking this trial out of military court and into the civilian court system. The decision effectively treats these men as common criminals entitled to Miranda and other rights. One answer may be Obama’s continued expressed interest in demonstrating his personal (and therefore the country as President) goodwill to Muslims. In a similar vein, the trial will have a political back drop as it will likely dissect former President Bush's policy on torture.
This decision presents many serious risks to the national security and for each of the participants in the trail. A civilian proceeding will give the defendants an opportunity to seek discovery of a broad range of pertinent and otherwise evidence. Most troubling is the possible disclosure of secrets and other information which could harm existing or future Intel operations that might prevent a future terrorist attack against the country. Americans will watch this legal process unfold and assess whether the Obama administration has made the proper decision which has profound implications on our national security policy. This decision is rendered at the same time that the Obama administration has proposed a massive and intrusive health care bill that will be the greatest governmental entitlement program, if enacted. The latter decision poses economic risk while Holder’s decision threatens our national security interest.
There has been a fast rising tide of deep concern by many Americans about the decisions and motives of President Obama as he deals on economic and national security matters. The defeats by two incumbent Democratic governors whom he personally endorsed and campaigned for in Virginia and New jersey by smashing margins is an obvious sign that he does not have the same support today that he had a year ago. Independents in particular who attach themselves to neither major political party have in these elections and recent polls clearly shifted their support away from Obama and his decisions.
All major decisions like Obama’s and Holder's on the trial venue involve an assessment of risk and benefit. There is no doubt that there are substantial risks in this proceeding and beyond this matter. However, the risks have to be measured against the benefit or upside in comparison to the risks assumed. The benefits have not been explained, and it is likely that Americans will question Obama’s judgment anew until they have been explained.