Self-serving nonsense, presumably being pushed by O as a bit of election-season candy for the Gitmo critics in his base. See, he still believes in due process, the drone strikes and “kill list” and indefinite detentions notwithstanding.
In an adaptation from his new book, The Finish—first reported for Vanity Fair—magazine contributing editor Mark Bowden reveals that President Obama intended to put Osama bin Laden on trial in the federal court system if he had been captured, rather than killed, during the Abbottabad raid. Bowden had access to key players including C.I.A. deputy director Michael Morell and the president himself.
According to Bowden in the story—in November’s Vanity Fair—in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”
This is a guy who’s spent four years firing missiles at suspected jihadis partly to spare himself the political headaches of how to interrogate and house them, but now he wants you to believe that he was A-OK with taking custody of the world’s most famous terrorist. For an inkling of what an unholy clusterfark that would have turned into, read Jeff Greenfield’s what-if about capturing Bin Laden written shortly after OBL was killed. There are at least three separate forms of stupidity and/or dishonesty in Obama’s claim. One: If there’s any compelling reason to think that trials in federal district court as opposed to in military tribunals are some powerful propaganda weapon against Al Qaeda, I’m unaware of it. The Great Satan’s justice is corrupt in any form, by definition. The blind sheikh was tried and convicted in federal court and that hasn’t stopped Islamist nuts from agitating, sometimes violently, for his release. If you support federal trials because you personally believe that’s the minimum process that’s due, that’s fine, but there’s no need to project your personal sense of legal ethics onto the sort of jihadist degenerates that are happy to amputate hands for theft, etc.
Two: It’s an open question whether the SEALs realistically could have taken Bin Laden alive. I remember writing about this after the Abbottabad raid, but here it is again: Put yourself in their shoes. You’re inside a compound which you suspect houses the leader of Al Qaeda. You have every reason to believe that he’s prepared defenses for just this sort of attack by the U.S. You’ve already been fired upon by one of his henchmen before entering the main building. Anything could happen; the whole structure could be wired somehow to explode as a last-ditch way for Bin Laden to escape the indignity of being captured by the infidel. He’s the leader of a death cult, after all. Suddenly, as you’re charging up the stairs, you see someone peering through a doorway. Is he aiming a machine gun? Is he arming a bomb? Plus, you know that, deep down, your C-in-C would much prefer for the target to be KIA than captured. Go figure, then, that the SEALs were inclined to shoot on sight. As a congressional aide who was briefed on the raid shortly after it happened said last year, “He would have had to have been naked for them to allow him to surrender.” Right — and Obama surely knows that. So much for the big federal trial.
Three: The big joke about Obama’s and the left’s insistence on a civilian trial is that they’d refuse to accept an adverse verdict. Imagine Bin Laden enduring a years-long trial in Manhattan and then being acquitted on a technicality or even on the merits, i.e. because the feds somehow couldn’t prove that he gave the order for 9/11. (Admittedly, the odds of convicting him on at least some lesser terror-related charges would have been very high.) Would the U.S. have flown him back to Abbottabad and dropped him off? Of course not; he would have been sent back to prison or to Gitmo while Obama figured out what to do with him and tried to manage the catastrophic political humiliation of failing to convict this guy for the worst act of terrorism in American history. Presumably they would have shipped him off to Britain or to the Hague or to Saudi Arabia or however many countries they needed to before he was convicted somewhere, but rest assured, in no way would acquittal have resulted in release — even if the only alternative was O ordering him detained indefinitely notwithstanding the jury’s verdict. The political reality of terror trials is that some of these defendants are too dangerous to let go irrespective of how their trials end. KSM will never leave U.S. custody no matter what happens in his military tribunal. The whole notion of “due process” in those circumstances, where incarceration is assured regardless of the outcome of the trial, is basically ridiculous, but O’s spin here is all about paying lip service to the concept for his base, not about really pursuing it. Mission accomplished, I guess.