Mona Charen

Is there an organizing principle behind the Obama administration's decisions on dealing with accused terrorists?

Announcing that Khalid Sheik Mohammad, mastermind of 9/11, and four co-conspirators, would be granted a civilian trial in Manhattan while the U.S.S. Cole bombers would receive a military tribunal, Attorney General Eric Holder was bombastic but opaque. "For over two hundred years," he intoned, "our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice ..." How did he decide who got a federal civilian court with its lavish legal protections and who got a military tribunal? It was a case-by-case determination, he explained, depending upon "the nature of the offense, the location in which the offense occurred, the identity of the victims, and the manner in which the case was investigated." Not a legal principle to found in there anywhere.

When critics observed that this amounted to an engraved invitation to al-Qaida to attack our civilians in preference to our warships, the attorney general countered that he had chosen the venue most likely to "maximize our chances for success." Really? At a Senate hearing, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., shot down that fatuity by noting that KSM had already pleaded guilty at the military tribunal in Guantanamo. (He had also welcomed martyrdom -- one wish that ought to have been promptly granted.) At the same hearing, General Holder could not say whether, if U.S. forces captured Osama bin Laden tomorrow, he would be read his Miranda rights.

Game Change FREE

Do you sense that they have not thought this through?

Now that New York City has declined the KSM trial, the administration seems embarrassed and bereft of ideas. An Internet dating service perhaps? "ISO: venue for terror trial, hanging juries a must." Yes, the death penalty has been invoked by an attorney general who claims simultaneously a) that the civilian trial for a terrorist will showcase America's devotion to the rule of law; and b) no matter what the outcome, KSM will not walk free.

To be fair to Holder, his boss suffers from the same incoherence.

While daintily reading rights to terrorists we nab here, the U.S. government is attacking suspected terrorists in the wild removes of Pakistan with Hellfire missiles. As the National Journal reports:

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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