Former Bush lawyers: Holder's doing the right thing with KSM

In terrorist trials over the past 15 years, federal prosecutors and judges have gained extensive experience protecting intelligence sources and methods, limiting a defendant’s ability to raise irrelevant issues and tightly controlling the courtroom. Moussaoui’s trial was challenging because his request for access to terrorists held at “black” sites had to be litigated. Difficulties also arose because Moussaoui acted as his own lawyer, and the judge labored to control him. But it is difficult to imagine a military commission of rudimentary fairness that would not allow a defendant a similar right to represent himself and speak out in court.

In either trial forum, defendants will make an issue of how they were treated and attempt to undermine the trial politically. These efforts are likely to have more traction in a military than a civilian court. No matter how scrupulously fair the commissions are, defendants will criticize their relatively loose rules of evidence, their absence of a civilian jury and their restrictions on the ability to examine classified evidence used against them. Some say it is wrong to give Mohammed trial rights ordinarily conferred on Americans, but a benefit of civilian trials over commissions is that they make it harder for defendants to complain about kangaroo courts or victor’s justice.