Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.
Should the White House change its stance and hold military trials for the Sept. 11 suspects?
Why or why not?
David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said:
If we were starting from scratch, the right thing to do would have been to have interrogated Khalid Sheikh Mohammend for an extended period using legal means, then to have transferred him to the criminal justice system to face capital charges for mass murder. An open trial that could be used to show the bankruptcy of his ideology and the immorality of his tactics to the world, as well as our confidence in the rule of law and democratic institutions, would have benefitted our conflict against al Qaeda and extremist terrorism.
But we are not starting from scratch. KSM was detained in secret facilities for years and tortured. A military commission was initiated and he pleaded guilty along with his other colleagues. The military commission system, while imperfect, has been improved through recent legislation and will likely withstand further judicial scrutiny.
Moreover, the issue of terrorism has been so politicized, unnecessarily in my view, that it may be impossible to secure the funding and authority to conduct a civilian trial, or the political costs of going forward are simply not worth any marginal benefit to our overall counterterrorism strategy that would be accrued by having a civilian trial. It seems as if the Administration has no choice but to reverse itself and use the military commission system.
To make the grand announcement that the trial would be transferred, and then to have to reverse it, is a huge embarrassment to the Attorney General. It is incomprehensible that a decision of this magnitude was made without consultation with Congress and politicians and security officials in New York City. I applaud the Obama Administration for trying to make a principled statement about our justice system, but its clumsy execution of this issue has been, to put it mildly, counterproductive.
Bruce E. Gronbeck, professor of political communication at the University of Iowa, said:
I think that mixing and matching civilian trials and military tribunals, depending upon the kind of person on trial, makes a good deal of sense. We've already done it and, so far as any of us can tell from news and government reports, without ill effects. (The ill effects have come post-trail.) I believe that the concern about giving detainees a civilian pulpit for their beliefs is misplaced. The propagandistic effect of the Land of the Free trying possible terrorists in secret is far more damaging to the U.S. than letting someone speak his piece in a civilian trial.
Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at UC Irvine, said:
Of course. This is not a “Geneva convention” type war. These people want to destroy us and will use any means necessary. Civil trials merely provide extremists with a pulpit to propagandize while exposing our civilian system to additional terrorists threats.
Chris Farrell, director of investigations for Judicial Watch, said:
Yes. Of course the Obama administration never should have attempted to change the venue in the first place. That policy decision had little or nothing to do with legal questions or the unpleasant realities of detaining terrorists and militant Islamists committed to harming the United States and its armed forces. Rather, it was a political posture assumed for propaganda and electoral advantage to motivate and sustain Obama's hard Left base. Military trials should move forward promptly.
Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:
This is the worst thing the administration could do: wiffle and waffle when it comes to this question. First it's one thing and then it's another. This looks really bad.
What they ought to do is to stick to their original position and follow it through all the way to the end. Taking this as a general principle would do much to shore up the Obama administration's fast-fading image as competent. The pursuit of self-described "pragmatism" -- which is not the same as competence, although the two are often associated -- has led Obama & Co. down the wrong path repeatedly.
Frank Askin, professor of Law at Rutgers University, said:
No. I think the President should stick to the rule of law and bring these defendants to trial in the federal courts. We have to show the world that the United States believes in the rule of law and will not be bullied either by terrorists or political demagogs.