By Cully Stimson
Friday, the Obama White House asked Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department to look for an alternative site to hold the federal trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators. In the last week, the political support for the controversial decision to hold the trial in New York City evaporated. Now, the Obama administration is scrambling to find an alternative location for the federal trial. Instead of looking for a new ZIP-code for a costly federal trial, the administration should send those detainees back to a military commission where they belong.
Earlier this week, Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Joe Liberman (I-CT), Jim Webb (D-VA), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) sent a letter to the President asking him to strongly reconsider his decision to try KSM in a federal court. The attacks of 9/11 were acts of war, they argued, and thus those responsible should be tried as “war criminals.” In other words, send them back to military commissions.
The NYC Police Commissioner opined that he did not support holding the trials in the city. It’s no wonder, given that the estimated cost for providing police and other security for the trials keeps creeping upwards. Most recently, it was estimated that it would cost at least $200 million a year for security alone. Keep in mind that the trial could last years. Some put the total cost estimate at over $1 billion.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who apparently was not consulted about the decision to hold the trials in his city, first supported the idea. Then, after the gravity of the situation sank it, he withdrew his support.
Since the decision to hold the trial in NYC was announced by Eric Holder, residents there grew more and more skeptical of the decision. Many were outright hostile to the idea.
Yesterday, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, publicly withdrew her support for the location of the federal trial in Manhattan. That was the tipping point.
And finally, liberal New York Senator Charles Schumer, who staunchly defended the decision to try KSM in federal court in NYC, called the White House and asked them to strongly consider finding an alternate location for the trials.
So much for standing up for principle and having the courage of one’s convictions.
No doubt the administration is working behind the scenes to find an alternative site for the federal trials, but what mayor or citizenry of a major city will now step up and beg for the trial, especially given Mayor Bloomberg’s public statements about the danger and costs that come with it?
Perhaps the administration will seek out a “Thompson” option (Thompson is the name of the underused state facility in Illinois where Obama wants to bring Gitmo detainees.) After being rebuffed by large city mayors, will they seek out a small or mid-size city for the federal trial, with the illusory promise of “jobs?” Perhaps.
It is time for the administration to acknowledge the folly of deciding to try KSM and others in federal court and refer them back to a military commission where they belong. Then, the administration should give commissions the full resources that they have lacked, including world class prosecutors and defense counsel.
The tide is turning against the administration’s approach to terrorism. Perhaps that is why the President did not mention KSM during his State of the Union address. Americans don’t think terrorists deserve constitutional rights. Americans also know that military commissions are fair.
The administration has an opportunity to do the right thing. If they don’t, Congress may force their hand.