Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 14, 2009

A RATHER OBVIOUS DECISION.... The big political story of the day yesterday was the Justice Department's decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others connected to the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York -- and the apoplexy this decision generated among conservatives. Twenty four hours later, I'm still not clear on why the right is having such a breakdown.

The NYT had a good editorial on this today, calling yesterday's announcement from the attorney general a "bold and principled step," which "promises to finally provide justice for the victims of 9/11."

Mr. Holder said those prisoners would be prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan. It was an enormous victory for the rule of law, a major milestone in Mr. Obama's efforts to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and an important departure from Mr. Bush's disregard for American courts and their proven ability to competently handle high-profile terror cases. If he and Vice President Dick Cheney had shown more faith in the laws and the Constitution, the alleged mass murderers would have faced justice much earlier.

Republican lawmakers and the self-promoting independent senator from Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman, pounced on the chance to appear on television. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they said military tribunals are a more secure and appropriate venue for trying terrorism suspects. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a former judge who should have more regard for the law, offered the absurd claim that Mr. Obama was treating the 9/11 conspirators as "common criminals."

There is nothing common about them -- or Mr. Holder's decision. Putting the five defendants on public trial a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center is entirely fitting. Experience shows that federal courts are capable of handling high-profile terrorism trials without comprising legitimate secrets, national security or the rule of law.

That last point seemed to go largely unnoticed yesterday: we've done this before. KSM and his cohorts are, by all appearances, monsters. But the American system of justice is not only strong enough to deal with monsters, it's done so many, many times.

Or, put another way, why are we even having this conversation? When we got Zacarias Moussaoui, we charged him, tried him, convicted him, and locked him up for the remainder of his miserable life. Republicans and Fox News personalities didn't whine like children; it was simply a process that followed the rule of law.

The same is true of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Richard Reid, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Jose Padilla, Ali Saleh al-Marri, John Walker Lindh, and Masoud Khan. The U.S. justice system has tried, convicted, and imprisoned hundreds of terrorists. Not one has ever escaped; not one has ever tried to escape.

And more to the point, when each was subjected to the criminal justice system, Republicans and their allies never complained. When they were sent to supermax facilities on American soil, no one whined about it or tried to scare the public.

It's hard not to get the impression that conservatives are throwing a tantrum based on nothing more than the hopes that Americans won't notice how foolish and cowardly they appear.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Actually, their reaction is a carry-over from the Bush days. Remember that, according to Bush and Cheney, guys like KSM were not criminals, nor were they terrorists--they are super villains with capabilities beyond the power of normal police forces to handle. Thus, the risk of bringing them into civilian courts is that, well, who knows? Maybe they'll suddenly transform into giant lizards that shoot lasers from their eyeballs.

Posted by: Domage on November 14, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm still not clear on why the right is having such a breakdown."

You need to get out more. The right believes (sincerely for a change) that this should not be a criminal trial, but a military one. They believe 9/11 was an act of war, not an act of criminals.

Posted by: jeff In Ohio on November 14, 2009 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

The republican reaction to the trial in NY is hard to understand, if the previous administration had enough evidence to hand over, what is the problem, the only difference in a military court (as far as I understand) is that it is a little more secret, so this administration wants open trials, the last did not - that is a cause for worry about the evidence (or however much of it was gained through torture)

Posted by: JS on November 14, 2009 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

It has become a knee jerk reaction to denigrate ANYTHING this administration does.

"The President left the white house carrying an umbrella this morning. This sends a clear signal to our enemies that he is afraid of getting wet, and it is definitely a cowardly act in this Time of War."

"With showers predicted, the president still chose not to carry an umbrella today. Such rash and foolish bravado is unbecoming from the leader of the Free World. And the real threat of a cold, followed by pneumonia, and possible death begs the question. Is the Vice President fit to serve?

Posted by: DAY on November 14, 2009 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

My worry is that all torture-induced evidence will be thrown out and he walks. We are talking about the American court system here. There seems to be a foregone conclusion that justice will be served, but nobody really knows anything about this guy other than what has been allowed to be released to the press.

Posted by: DelCapslock on November 14, 2009 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

DAY has certainly highlighted one part of this GOP reaction.

I think it was Rep. King who yesterday called this "The worst decision ever made by any president." But my guess is that EVERY decision Obama makes will be the worst EVAR--until the next decision he makes.

That schtick is going to wear out really quickly, especially as Obama's decisions turn out to be correct and bear sweet (instead of bitter) fruit.

Posted by: Domage on November 14, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Bush-Cheney Alien Monster Rendition Act

Benen: Or, put another way, why are we even having this conversation?

It is an attempt to justify the monstrous mutation of the US Justice System under Bush-Cheney. Only by pretending these criminals are from outer space, and thus outside our normal means of justice, can they justify their torture and imprisonment.

Posted by: koreyel on November 14, 2009 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

"The same is true of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Richard Reid, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Jose Padilla, Ali Saleh al-Marri, John Walker Lindh, and Masoud Khan . . . "

Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski, James Kopp . . .

Posted by: Joel on November 14, 2009 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

1. Everything Obama does is wrong.
2. Well-publicized trials might reveal war crimes ordered by prominent Republicans.
3. Most important: These guys aren't long-term thinkers. When Americans were scared out of their wits, Republicans won elections. Ergo, Americans must always be scared.

Posted by: JMG on November 14, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't Rudy even testify at Zacarias Moussaoui's trial? I wouldn't be surprised if he was asked to testify at these other terrorists' trials, so what's the logic in him even complaining: it's more favorable publicity for him.

Obama could run in a burning building and rescue a baby and the republicans would find a reason to criticize him for it.

Comment by

Posted by: ella on November 14, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Why is the right throwing tantrums? The comments above do a good job of giving reasons, but there's one I haven't seen yet:

They simply know no other way to react to anything anyone whom they don't like does.

A very sad state of affairs for America.

Posted by: nerd on November 14, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Is it possible that the people responsible for any wholesale loss of evidence (torture , like words , has meaning and consequences) be held as culpable ?
Then we as a people could have a clear line of responsibility for the exposure of Americans to the censure of civilised folks , and the creation of a privatised corporate , government mafia .
I have a dream .

Posted by: FRP on November 14, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

The John Walker Lindh conviction (or negotiated plea agreement) is a bit problematic. If he was given a fair trial NOW he might easily have joined the Lackawanna 6, the Miami 7.

Had he been held at Gitmo, he might have received a sentence more in line with David Hicks.

It is good that the rule of law is getting a big nod of approval from Obama. But it is worth continuing to note how far from the prior norm the Bush Administration moved when engaged in the GWOT.

Posted by: fred on November 14, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Lets add on to the "they are just such assholes" comment mentioned here. Republicans and Fox News personalities whine like children; they are just assholes. That would make a great bumper sticker. But I imagine that my car would be vandalized in no time.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on November 14, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican reaction is right in line with their opposition to Health Care Reform. They don't believe in America, they don't believe in the U.S. Government.

They also don't understand the importance of the American Judicial System and remain blinded by frothing at the mouth revenge hysteria. Yet they proved in 7 years under Bush that they have no solution to the problem and could not make a decision on what to do even if we gave them another eight years.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on November 14, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

On second thought, maybe not. I'd never compare children with assholes. Better stick with just Republicans and Fox News personalities whine, whine, whine; they are just such assholes.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on November 14, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

So John Boehner and other members of the GOP have a very low opinion of the American justice system.

This is the same guy who can't tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, so I'm not too impressed with his argument.

Posted by: 2Manchu on November 14, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

The Right is throwing tantrums because they know it works for teh base. Republican leaders know our judicial system can handle these trials... they just want to keep the few members of their fraidy cat party scared because that's all they have going for them. And, with a complicit media, they believe they can convince more people to become afraid and turn against Obama.

I think it's a brilliant move by Holder, because, not only will it bring the terrorists to justice, it will most likely shine a light on Darth Cheney and friends. Those wanting an investigation into Bush/Cheney are going to get their way after all. Holder was just waiting for the stars to align.

Posted by: pol on November 14, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, the Republicans must be right, why just yesterday I ran into Tim McVeigh and the Blind Sheik walking in downtown NYC. You know they were so happy the liberal judges let them off the hook at the trial and sent them on their way to blow up some more US buildings.

/Snark off

Those republicans are such cowards. They live to sow fear and discord trying to destroy the USA.

Posted by: madstork123 on November 14, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

DelCapslock @ 8:20 AM -

"My worry is that all torture-induced evidence will be thrown out and he walks..."
I find it hard to believe that the present DoJ would risk such a verdict. It is fully possible that KSM won't be convicted of any crime that carries the death penalty due to "tainted" evidence, but I would be very surprised if he doesn't served major time.

"There seems to be a foregone conclusion that justice will be served..."
There's a reason why the statues representing Justice are blindfolded. Justice will still have been served no matter what the final verdict is. And that will be true even should KSM be found not guilty or convicted on any lesser charges because of the activities of the Bush administration.

It's an unfortunate truism that too often, those who have to pay the bills aren't the ones that ran them up...

Posted by: Doug on November 14, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Treating them as "common criminals" is exactly the way to treat these scum, because it takes away from them the opportunity to be considered political martyrs. My friend Mike German, who spent 12 years in the FBI in counter-terrorism (going after our domestic KKK and Nazis), puts the position very well in his book. The British did this with the Provisional IRA and it ultimately had great effect in the public perception of those individuals who did the bombing as not being "patriots," but rather criminals.

Putting them in prison to rot away for decades to the point no one remembers them when they die - rather than sentencing them to be executed - is the icing on the cake of de-legitimizing their "politics."

Posted by: TCinLA on November 14, 2009 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK
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