Webb: Criminal trials for 9/11 terrorists a bad idea

Byron York at the Washington Examiner has Senator James Webb’s repudiation of the Obama administration decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 figures in a New York City courtroom (emphasis mine):

I have never disputed the constitutional authority of the President to convene Article III courts in cases of international terrorism. However, I remain very concerned about the wisdom of doing so. Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor. It will be disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts.

The precedent set by this decision deserves careful scrutiny as we consider proper venues for trying those now held at Guantanamo who were apprehended outside of this country for acts that occurred outside of the country. And we must be especially careful with any decisions to bring onto American soil any of those prisoners who remain a threat to our country but whose cases have been adjudged as inappropriate for trial at all. They do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.

I have consistently argued that military commissions, with the additional procedural rules added by Congress and enacted by President Obama, are the most appropriate venue for trying individuals adjudged to be enemy combatants.

That succinctly makes the case most of us have been making all day.  Those who had committed any “crimes” within the jurisdiction of American criminal courts in connection to the 9/11 attack died in their suicide attacks.  The “suspects” facing trial now committed acts of war, not crimes, and they committed them outside the jurisdiction of the US court system.  Congress wrestled with this problem twice, and twice reached the solution: military tribunals or “commissions” for adjudicating the cases of KSM and his cohorts.

Webb’s dissent is remarkable for a couple of different reasons.  First, he’s the best the Democrats have in the Senate for national security.  He served in the Reagan administration and had built a great deal of credibility on the subject, which is why Virginians felt comfortable narrowly electing him over George Allen in 2006 — with the help of the Washington Post and the “macaca” meme.  His dissent on this topic will sting, and it should.

It won’t change the trajectory of this case, unfortunately.  After making such a public show of announcing the trials, there’s almost no chance that the White House will change its mind and return to the military tribunals for KSM and the other four “defendants.”  Webb does demonstrate, though, just how far outside the mainstream on national-security thought Obama is now, and sets up a big I-told-you-so if something goes terribly wrong at the trial.  No one can say that Obama didn’t get warned, even by his own side.