Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Isikoff

Reversing Obama’s Worst Decision Yet?

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

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