Paul Greenberg

Barack Obama seems to be laboring under the considerable misimpression that this country is engaged not in a war but some kind of criminal investigation.

Sen. Obama maintains that we shouldn’t be holding all those hundreds of detainees in military custody at Guantanamo, among them Khalid Sheik Mohammed, confessed coordinator of the 9/11 attack and murderer of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

What alternative did Sen. Obama propose? Take all the captured enemy combatants at Guantanamo, lawful and/or unlawful, including the hard-core ringleaders who have not only confessed but bragged about their atrocities, and turn them over to the criminal courts of the United States — with all the privileges, rights, appeals, delaying tactics and general obfuscations appertaining thereto.

To quote this young man who would be president of the United States — and commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces:

“And, you know, let’s take the example of Guantanamo. What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center — we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.”

How simple. And simplistic. It may be too much to hope for, but the senator would do well to have a nice, long sit-down with Andrew C. McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was the chief prosecutor in the trial Barack Obama now cites as a model of how to conduct this war. Excuse me, this criminal proceeding.

Back in the sleepy year 1993, Mr. McCarthy and the prosecution had to overcome almost insuperable odds to obtain convictions against Omar Abdel Rahman (“The Blind Sheikh”) and the rest of the dirty dozen who attacked the World Trade Center that year — and had planned to follow up the attack by destroying a number of other New York landmarks.

To win his case, Prosecutor McCarthy was obliged to rely not on the laws of war, and what those laws have to say about unlawful combatants out of uniform who attack innocent civilians, but on a superannuated Civil War statute against “seditious conspiracy.”

The prosecution had to overcome inept investigations, legal roadblocks, threats against the judge and jurors and himself, and the widespread lack of recognition in those pre-9/11 days that this was a war, not an isolated crime.

It’s a wonder Counselor McCarthy and his team prevailed in that trial, which consumed some two years and immense effort before the defendants were finally convicted of a bombing that killed six people and injured 100 more.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.