Jonah Goldberg

I get where President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are coming from. They think that if we change our way of life, the terrorists will have won.

In principle, I agree. If upholding our values makes fighting the war on terror harder, then it should be harder.

That's why I don't care much that it will cost more money to try suspected terrorists in the Big Apple than it would in the state-of-the-art facility at Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, while the security concerns stemming from a trial in New York are real, I think we can handle them. And, again, just because something is harder or more dangerous, that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't do it. That's the whole point behind "millions for defense but not one cent for tribute." Some things just aren't for sale.

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Nonetheless, I think the decision to send Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his buddies to a civilian trial is a travesty.

Ultimately, the disagreement is one of first principles. If we are at war, then the rules of war apply. The fact that this is a war unlike others we've fought should not mean that it isn't a war at all.

Don't tell that to Obama. He's made it clear that he doesn't see the threat as an unconventional war but as a conventional law-enforcement problem. The attorney general insists that 9/11 is a matter for civilian courts. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says attacks such as 9/11 should be thought of as "man-caused disasters." Her top priority after the Fort Hood shootings was to bring Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to justice -- a fine answer for a law-enforcement official but not from someone charged with protecting the homeland. The war on terror itself has morphed into "overseas contingency operations."

Just as telling, Obama insists that the decision to move Mohammed to civilian court was entirely Holder's. This is deceptive nonsense. Even if technically true, the choice to let Holder make the decision was the real decision. The commander in chief opted to hand off jurisdiction over enemy combatants to the cops. He can't duck that responsibility by saying it wasn't his call.

But there's a more immediate problem. This won't be a show trial, strictly speaking. But it will be a trial for show.

Prominent defenders of the decision insist that this trial is at least partly to benefit America's image around the world. That's a laudable goal -- and another example of why this is not a mere law-enforcement issue. But I'm dubious that will be the result.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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