Conservatives may be high-fiving today after reports that the Obama administration will reverse Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the 9/11 plotters in federal court, but National Review’s Andy McCarthy says, “Hold the champagne.” As I wrote last night, the Washington Post story notes that the White House wants to use this as a trade-off to lower resistance in the Senate to closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, one of Barack Obama’s most public policy goals in the war on terror, and one that failed to meet the timeline he demanded. Andy warns against thinking of national security in the same terms as Congressional pork and blasts Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC) for attempting a Gang of 14-style out for Obama:
If a deal to grant military commissions in exchange for closing Gitmo happens, it is a major win for the Obama Left and an enormous loss for public safety.
We were headed inexorably toward military commissions for the 9/11 plotters. We don’t need to cut a bad deal to get it. Congress was not going to approve funding to transport trained terrorists to the U.S., nor to hold civilian trials. As I said, we’ve already got military commissions for some enemy combatants, and if we play this out, we are likely to get them for most if not all of the combatant war crimes trials. And we are likely to get them at Gitmo — the best place to have them, and the place on which the public has expended hundreds of millions of dollars to construct a safe, humane, fastidiously Islamo-friendly prison with state of the art trial facilities.
Military commissions didn’t exist when the jihadists carried out the Cole attack in October 2000. For years, moreover, there has been a pending civilian indictment in the Cole case. Yet, despite these facts, the Obama administration called for a military commission for the Cole bombers. Once they did that, there was no longer any coherent rationale for giving the 9/11 plotters a civilian trial. The only predicate for trying the Cole bombers by commission is the 9/11 attacks — so how do you do the 9/11 plotters in civilian court if the Cole bombers have to go to military court?
Furthermore, the public strongly opposes a civilian trial for the 9/11 plotters. There is only so much an administration can do against the will of the American people. Obama is pushing that envelope as far as it can go on healthcare. He was not going to go over the edge just to give KSM a civilian trial. The President would have caved on this no matter what.
In sum, we were winning the argument. But instead, in Gang of 14 style, Sen. Graham and whoever else are treating the President like he has cards to play. Rather than just be quietly embarrassed over their loopy position that Gitmo causes terrorism, these senators are using that fiction as a reason for trading away Gitmo (i.e., a facility we need) in order to achieve military commission trials for enemy combatants (i.e., something we’d get anyway without the trade).
From the Post’s reporting, it’s a bit murky as to whether this decision had much to do with Graham’s efforts anyway. Graham has been a critic of Gitmo since the Bush administration, but also opposed to trying captured detainees in federal court. Graham hasn’t done anything much differently for the last two years on either score except step up his rhetoric in support of military commissions and get fairly quiet on the Gitmo issue lately. The reversal of Obama comes more from the reversal of his own political allies than anything Graham’s doing.
Of course, that doesn’t negate Andy’s point at all, and in fact strengthens it. Poll after poll shows Americans opposing the closure of Gitmo, and since the attempted Christmas Day attack by the EunuchBomber, that has intensified. Closing Gitmo and reading terrorists their rights is a lot more popular years after the last close call on terrorist attacks. In the immediate aftermath, the public has much greater clarity on the difference between ordinary criminals and foreign terrorists hoping to annihilate as many Americans as possible.
We don’t need a Gang of 14 solution here. We need people who take national security seriously, and who are less interested in swapping facilities for public relations reasons than in using the best solutions for the safety and security of the nation. This isn’t a meet-him-halfway moment on policy. Putting the 9/11 plotters in federal court was a stupid idea from the beginning, and so is closing Gitmo just to duplicate it in Thomson, Illinois. We’re not required to exchange one stupid idea for another.