Byron York

An Iowa farmer tried to warn Attorney General Eric Holder on the risks of trying high-value foreign terrorism suspects in American civilian courts. When Holder insisted that "failure is not an option" -- his defense of the Obama administration's decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York -- Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley attempted to give the attorney general a little taste of reality.

"I'm a farmer, not a lawyer," Grassley told Holder at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last November. "I don't know how you can make a statement that failure to convict is not an option when you've got juries in this country. I think a lot of Americans thought O.J. Simpson ought to be convicted of murder."

Holder would hear nothing of it. "I want to emphasize that I am confident that we will be successful in the trial of these matters," he told Grassley. And even if KSM or some other high-value terrorism suspect were somehow acquitted, Holder continued, the government could still hold them for other reasons.

If that's the case, Grassley replied, then what's the point of putting them in civilian court in the first place? "What do you gain?" Grassley asked. "I'm just trying to bring a little common sense to this." During the course of that hearing, several of Grassley's fellow Republicans joined him in trying to bring a little common sense to the issue. They all failed.

Yes, Holder backed off on trying KSM in New York, or in civilian court anywhere, but only because a bipartisan majority in Congress was determined to stop him from doing it. But Holder and his boss, President Obama, forged ahead with their crusade to prove that the American civilian justice system is as appropriate for a foreign terrorist captured in Pakistan as it is for an American accused of knocking off a convenience store in Milwaukee.

Holder's test case was Ahmed Ghailani, the al-Qaida operative accused of playing a key role in the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Originally from Africa and arrested after a shootout in Pakistan, Ghailani was held at the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay before Holder ordered him moved to Manhattan for trial. Ghailani faced 286 counts, including 224 separate murder counts -- one for each of the people killed in the embassies.


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner