WASHINGTON -- Eric Holder -- distinguished prosecutor, judge, foe of public corruption, basketball enthusiast, mentor to disadvantaged youth -- seemed a reassuring choice for attorney general. When Holder affirmed during his confirmation hearing that America remains at war with terrorists, Sen. Lindsay Graham enthused, "I'm almost ready to vote for you right now."
So how did Holder become the most destructive member of Barack Obama's Cabinet?
Holder launched his tenure by showing disdain for the work of career federal prosecutors when it fit his ideological predispositions. In 2004, a task force from the Eastern District of Virginia investigated allegations of misconduct against the CIA and found insufficient evidence of criminal conduct or intent. Holder ignored the views of these respected prosecutors and appointed his own special prosecutor, appeasing a political constituency that wanted the CIA to be hounded and punished. As a result, morale at a front-line agency in the war on terror has plunged. What possible reason could a bright, ambitious intelligence professional have to pursue a career in counterterrorism when the attorney general of the United States is stubbornly intent on exposing and undermining his colleagues?
Now Holder is displaying an exaggerated respect for the work of career federal prosecutors in New York, also when it fits his ideological predispositions. He is asking them to make the case against five 9/11 conspirators, in a circus atmosphere, with an uncertain chain of evidence (gathered on a battlefield), under a cloud of torture allegations that Holder himself has encouraged.
There is one serious argument for this course: that a civilian court will provide greater legitimacy for the imposition of the death penalty than a military tribunal. But the guilt of these terrorists is not in question. And it is difficult to imagine that those repulsed or impressed by Khalid Sheik Mohammed's confessed crimes will care much about the procedures surrounding his sentencing.