Obama’s Naive Terror Trials Plan

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - February 10, 2010
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Having spent the last week in Washington, D.C. - inside the Beltway, no less - it became clear the local media preoccupation with Obama/Reid/Pelosi politics blankets the landscape as deep as the coincident February snowstorm. The issue de jour was characterized by a Washington Post editorial headlined, “A terror trial goes homeless.”

Indeed, the president’s - or more specifically the attorney general’s decree in the name of the president - was another example of the “Ready-Fire-Aim” style of this administration. Bad enough they had already decided certain enemy combatants - in this case including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammad - should be snatched out of Guantanamo to be tried in civil criminal court in the U.S., but specifically in lower Manhattan just yards from 9/11 ground zero.


Not until New York City Mayor Bloomberg and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and others objected did they back off and start looking for another venue. They had failed to even consider the cost of security (estimated $200 million per year), the diversion of NYPD personnel, and the disruption and heightened danger of a high visibility terrorist threat to businesses and residents in the area.

There was also talk of the trials in D.C. proper. Oh, yeah, that would be much better!

Compounding the folly in all this is that the 4-year-old multimillion-dollar high-security prison at Gitmo is virtually state of the art (unlike the more open-air Camp Delta - we never see photos of it; it’s off limits to cameras), and millions have been spent rehabbing the airfield operations building as a sophisticated, high-tech secure facility for military tribunals. In fact, the main tribunal room resembles a modern, formal courtroom with furnishings for judge, jury, prosecution and defense, observers and modern media equipment.

But the granddaddy of folly is the absurd idea of extending constitutional rights to a civil trial to enemy combatants who have no constitutional rights. Yes, they have human rights, and these are being extended - in spades. But they have no U.S. constitutional rights.

There is evidence that the president and his equally inexperienced advisers hold the naive view that civil trials will garner brownie points and prove to the world that we Americans accord civil rights even to our enemies - a supposed balance to the “inhumanity” of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Further folly, the people in the parts of the world we are supposedly impressing - especially the jihadists - just think we are soft or stupid, or both. Those who respect only force and power, disrespect softness and naivete and, ultimately, are further emboldened by them.

To their critics who point out the dangers of lawyeredup terrorists eager to pounce upon the slightest technical error common in the complex landscape of a criminal trial, President Obama, Attorney General Holder and White House press secretary Gibbs have all said - in so many words - “No worries! We’ll give ‘em a fair trial and then hang ‘em” (said the posse of the cattle rustler!). In the military, a defense counsel would call this “undue command influence,” prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. What kind of image is this going to broadcast to the skeptical-of-America world? Given the undue lengths of time these terrorists have now been held (years), these civil trials are already dismissible for failure to meet the constitutional requirement for “a fair and speedy trial.”

Assuming this administration can even find a new trial venue acceptable to the people who live there, it is still an extremely counterproductive - and dangerous - course.

It appears that a political statement (civil trials) is more important than swift and appropriate punishment (military tribunals).

Instead of going back to the drawing board, the president should simply go back to Gitmo.

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