Holder's U-turn: Why isn't a 9/11 mastermind facing civilian trial?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will face a military trial at Guantanamo Bay rather than a civilian trial in Manhattan. Did the attorney general really have no other choice?

Accused September 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, pictured in 2003, will face a military trial in Guantanamo Bay.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The Obama administration announced on Monday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-admitted mastermind of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, will now face trial in a military court at Guantanamo Bay. The White House originally wanted "KSM" to be tried in a civilian court in lower Manhattan, but Attorney General Eric Holder has bowed to pressure from a broad swath of opponents, who worried that a civilian trial would be a target for terrorist attacks, and might fail to deliver the appropriate verdict. Holder laid the blame for the change squarely at the feet of Congress, which passed legislation prohibiting any Guantanamo Bay detainees being brought to the U.S. Did Holder really have no other choice but to try KSM in a military court? (Watch a CBS discussion about Holder's reversal.)

Our justice system can't handle this kind of trial: If KSM had been tried in Manhattan, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, it would have been a "perversion of justice." Holder and Obama repeatedly ruled out the possibility that KSM would be found innocent or set free — unthinkable in an ordinary civilian trial. It's shameful that we don't have "some kind of statutory framework" to deal with 9/11 terrorists and the like. But reshaping our justice system to host a "Stalinist show trial" is not the way to create one.

"Obama administration to abandon plans for civilian trials for 9/11 plotters"

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In a democracy, KSM should be tried in a normal court: Yet again, politics has trumped justice, says Karen Greenberg at The Guardian. In a democracy, the American criminal justice system should try those "accused of harming or conspiring to harm American citizens." By throwing KSM back to the military, the Obama administration has undermined the rule of law.

"Why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in Guantanamo"

Either way, it's a stunning political defeat: Had Obama not halted the military's trial of KSM when he took office, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, the terrorist would have been dealt with long ago. Instead, we've had "two years of grandstanding," and now the whole process has to start over. KSM was never going to be tried in a civilian court. "Political and military reality" has prevailed, and the result is an "unmitigated political defeat" for the president and his administration.

"Breaking: KSM to get military commission trial"

And a defeat that weakens America: Congress and "NIMBYs in New York" got their way, says Paul R. Pillar at the National Interest, and America is weaker as a result. Why? Because putting KSM before a military tribunal "depicts the terrorists exactly as they wish to be depicted: as warriors rather than as criminals." It will refocus criticism of Guantanamo, and it erodes the "fundamental, long-established elements of the rule of law in this country."

"Ideology trumps justice"

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