Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Evan Bayh, perhaps hearing footsteps back home in an election year, said of the KSM trial that it “sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do.” When pressed by Chris Wallace, he stated he would not vote for the $200 million or so needed for a civilian trial for KSM. He was not alone in criticizing the administration:
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions. “We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past. We shouldn’t be Mirandizing foreign terrorists. We should send them to military tribunals. $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place.”
Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists.”
“He’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime,” he added.
Alexander went so far as to call for Holder to step down.
Meanwhile, the administration’s official flack did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of either the KSM trial or of Holder himself. Appearing on CNN, Robert Gibbs would only say:
“He will be brought to justice, and he will likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed. … That you can be sure of.”
But he dodged repeated questions by CNN host John King about whether the administration might shift the venue back from federal court in New York to a military court, finally saying that “The attorney general believes the best place to try him is in an American courtroom,” but not committing to that option…
“We are talking with the authorities in New York,” Gibbs said. “We understand their logistical concerns. We have been discussing that with them.”
So this is all the attorney general’s idea, you see. Not exactly the “buck stops here” sort of decision-making we were assured we’d get from Obama. But aside from the lack of presidential accountability and candor (who believes Holder made this monumentally dumb decision with no input from the White House?), it does leave open the potential for a serious revision in personnel and policy.
There is wide consensus that the decision to try KSM in federal court in New York was a blunder. Suddenly, the wonders of military commissions have been rediscovered. The handling of the Christmas Day bomber is likewise the subject of broad criticism. Who is at the center of these and a host of other ill-advised decisions on the war on terror? Well, the president, of course, but he’s not going anywhere for three years. His attorney general, however, has had quite a run and is fast becoming a liability for the administration. What better way to pivot and restore some bipartisan credibility than to throw Holder under the proverbial bus?
We’ve learned that it takes a lot to get fired by Obama. But if anyone has earned that fate, it is Holder. His departure would earn praise from conservatives at a time when Obama is struggling to demonstrate some bipartisanship. It would suggest that there is hope yet for this administration to steer back toward the Center of the political spectrum and away from the netroot agenda that has proven utterly unworkable and politically toxic.