Caving on the 9/11 Trial Would Send All the Wrong Messages

The Washington Post reports today that President Obama's advisors are planning to recommend that the administration reverse its decision to try the September 11 suspects in federal court and instead opt for military commissions. That's more than just disappointing, given the overwhelming consensus of military and legal experts that civilian courts are more effective for prosecuting terrorists. If the president were to heed that advice, it would also be astonishingly bad politics.

The Post story doesn't say what President Obama has decided to do, or whether Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in federal court to much fanfare in November, will go along with those recommendations. But for the administration to reverse itself now on a key legal and strategic decision that critics have made a political hot potato would signal to Obama's opponents that if they just heat up the rhetoric and prey on people's fears enough, the administration will cave. And that would be a sorry signal of how this administration plans to determine critical matters of national security.

Recent reports have suggested that Senator Lindsey Graham has been cutting deals with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, not only on the 9/11 trials but on passing legislation to secure the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects in exchange for supporting the administration's efforts to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. To drum up support for his ideas, Graham has been going around denouncing the idea that the United States would "give the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks the same constitutional rights as an American citizen," and insisting that military commissions are the "proper venue" for such trials. Graham neglects to mention in such statements that all criminals in the United States have always had constitutional rights in U.S. courts -- these rights are, after all, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

And to call military commissions the "proper venue" is to suggest that they have a strong record for convicting terrorists -- which, in fact, they do not. Military commissions have convicted precisely three terrorists so far, two of whom have already been released from prison. By contrast, U.S. federal courts have convicted almost 200 self-described Islamic jihadist terrorists since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

None of that matters, however, when it comes to the politics of fear. Since Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision to try the 9/11 suspects in federal court, his opponents have turned it into the linchpin of their opposition to the administration. At a demonstration in front of the federal courthouse in New York in December, protesters called Obama and Holder "the real terrorists" and demanded their impeachment.

As I stood in the cold rain watching them, I had to wonder, since when did so many ordinary Americans (admittedly many with tea bags hanging from their star-spangled hats) come to care so much about the procedural complexities of the federal judicial system? Why in the past, when the Bush administration prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in this same Manhattan courthouse, had they never claimed that our judicial system was a "moral disgrace" that would allow terrorists to "spew their hate across America"?

Of course, most of those protesters know very little about the U.S. court system and how much more effective it's been at convicting terrorists and locking them away for life than any military commission has. But some disgruntled Americans, understandably angry and insecure in tough economic times, have been whipped into a frenzy by Obama's most adamant opponents, who've channeled their fears into angry protests about terrorism rather than addressing their real and legitimate concerns.

Perhaps that's to be expected. But for the Obama administration to cave to that hysteria would send all the wrong messages. It would signal a victory for the politics of fear over the longstanding American tradition of respect for the rule of law. It would showcase a triumph of crass political deal-making over rational, fact-based decisionmaking. For President Obama, it would suggest a profound weakness on his part -- a message to his adversaries that if they just make enough of a stink about the decisions they don't like, then they can change them. And most importantly, it would mean that the administration is willing to sacrifice lasting national security to momentary political expedience. And that would be the saddest statement of all.


The Dark Side of Election 08

I have a theory and want to know what you all think.

I posted these comments today, at the bottom of a descending thread at Open Left from yesterday, My Frustrating Ignorance On The Campaignby: Chris Bowers where Bowers wonders about why Obama's numbers are creeping steadily down.

I don't know how much this has been talked about, having been preoccupied by local primary races, but I'd like to see what others think:

I believe the strategy McCain/Palin is using now is this: Promote a myth people want to believe and scoff at a reality people prefer to believe is not true. And I think there's a parallel darker campaign being deployed (below).

Maybe that's overly simplistic, but it speaks to a gut feeling that I have.

Overwhelmed and frightened people want desperately to believe in a strong father who will make decisions for them, and tell them (firmly, parentally) they don't need to do their own thinking and deciding. And that things are okay, really, they are okay, you can trust me, believe me.

During a campaign, this is a myth that works, because people WANT it to be true, very badly, and because it won't be put to the test until governance begins. Then the wheels fall off, as in Bush, life gets measurably worse for everyone and the lie is revealed. Obviously too late -- the damage has been done.

There's more...

Fear, Fear and more Fear.

(cross posted at Kickin it with CG and Clintonistas for Obama)

In case anyone was wondering what an exercise in fear-mongering looks like.  Here you go:

The above represents a billboard in Orange County, Florida. The local ABC News affiliate reports that the person responsible is a local musician "trying to help Republicans" but that "officials with both political parties are calling the billboard inappropriate."

Betcha we'll see more of this as we get closer to the GE.  Ya think?

There's more...

We're Not Afraid Anymore

Cross-posted at Clintonistas for Obama.

Yesterday, Gary Bauer wrote a piece for Politico in which he warns the vast left-wing homosexual conspiracy not to underestimate the power of homophobia in mobilizing sheep voters to the polls.  In his article, he repeats the argument that anti-gay marriage amendments helped rally evangelical conservatives to polls to vote for homophobia and fear (George Bush).  The argument that fear of gay nuptials pushed President Bush over the top is not without its detractors:

There's more...

Folgers Challenge: Hillary R. Clinton or George W. Bush

We secretly removed who said each of these statements, let's see if you notice:

"They [Islamic Terrorists] watch our elections as closely as we do, maybe more closely than some of our fellows citizens do..."1

"There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence [in Iraq], and we're heading into an election..."2

"When it comes to better securing our homeland and fighting the forces of terror, results matter. And when it comes to choosing a President, results matter."3

"Let's not forget you're hiring a President not just to do what a candidate says during the election, you want a President to be there when the chips are down."4

"So, you know, words are not actions. And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action."5

"You see, it's not enough to advocate reform. You have to be able to get it done."6

"My opponent has good intentions, but intentions do not always translate to results."7

"You know, what we've got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality."8

"The murders in Madrid are a reminder that the civilized world is at war."9

"I don't think it was by accident that Al Qaeda decided to test the new Prime Minister"10

There's more...

Diaries

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