Jake Tapper apparently caught the White House flat-footed with a question they should have already had answered before bringing Ahmed “Foopie” Ghailani to New York City for trial. Tapper asked Robert Gibbs what would happen to Ghailani if a jury failed to convict him on any of the more than 200 charges of murder and terrorism related to the two 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Gibb’s essentially shrugged:
Yesterday, despite repeated questioning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to answer whether the Obama administration will free Ahmed Ghailani if he’s found not guilty in court. The Obama administration flew the accused terrorist from Guantanamo to New York yesterday to try him for his alleged role in the 1998 embassy bombings.
“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about how certain cases may or may not play out,” Gibbs said.
Both Tapper and Major Garrett of Fox pressed Gibbs for several minutes on this point, and Gibbs refused to give an answer. He repeatedly replied that the administration would wait until a verdict was reached to decide what the next course of action would be, if indeed one was necessary.
That didn’t satisfy Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
Today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, asked, “if we’re going to treat this terrorist detainee as a common civilian criminal, what will happen to Ghailani if he’s found not guilty? And what will happen to other detainees the administration wants to try in civilian courts if they are found not guilty? Will they be released? If so, where? In New York? In American communities? Or will they be released overseas, where they could return to terror and target American soldiers or innocent civilians?”
McConnell continued: “If Ghailani isn’t allowed to go free, will he be detained by the government? If so, where will he be detained? Would the administration detain him on U.S. soil, despite the objections of Congress and the American people?”
Hopefully, Foopie will get convicted and all of this will remain academic, at least until the next time Obama decides to try a Gitmo detainee in federal court rather than a military tribunal. Tapper makes the point in his post that the administration’s credibility doesn’t rest on guilty verdicts, but on not guilty verdicts. If they lock Ghailani up again after an acquittal, then it shows the entire idea of criminal trials for foreign terrorists was nothing but a White House conceit. If they let him go free after all they know about Ghailani’s involvement in al-Qaeda attacks, it will signal terrorists around the globe that attacking America carries little consequence except a big publicity show in federal court, access to the best attorneys and news media outlets, followed by the freedom to launch more attacks.
Plus, if the Obama administration lets Ghailani walk free after an acquittal, they will have to deal with an extremely angry American public. A clear majority don’t want Gitmo closed now; after a botched prosecution and a Get Out Of Jail Free card for Foopie, they’ll demand big changes to pull back on Obama’s unpopular policies. The White House knows it, too, which is why Gibbs can’t answer the question — both answers are wrong.
When you’ve worked yourself into a position where all the options are wrong, then you’ve made a mistake pursuing the policy that led you to the dead end. They may feel sanguine about rolling the dice with Foopie, confident of a conviction, and hopefully they’ll be right … this time. If they can’t give a good answer to this question, though, they’d better not roll the dice again.