Bowing to political realities, the Obama administration reversed itself and announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, would be tried at Guantanamo in a military commission, instead of in a federal court in the United States. The decision comes as the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks is months away, and on the eve of a House Judiciary hearing on military commissions and the 9/11 case. The victims of 9/11 deserve justice, and it was high time for the administration to make a decision.
The administration deserves credit for making this decision, however late in coming.
Let’s recall how we got here.
Recall that Senator Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and halted military commissions upon taking office. This, despite the fact that the KSM military commissions’ trial had already started, and that KSM announced in open court that he wanted to plead guilty and get the death penalty.
On May 21, 2009, much to the consternation of liberals and human rights activists, President Obama gave an eloquent speech at the National Archives in which he endorsed reformed military commissions, and indefinite detention. The President made clear that his administration’s first preference was to try terrorist detainees in federal court.
In November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that KSM would be transferred to New York City to be tried in federal court for the 9/11 conspiracy. That decision was met with instant and vociferous opposition from the public and politicians from both sides of the isle.
Despite the fact that the Obama’s own party controlled the House and Senate for the first two years he was in office, for some unknown reason, the administration chose not to use any political capital to close Guantanamo, or make the moral and legal case to representatives why KSM should be tried in federal court. In fact, the Democratically-controlled House and Senate passed laws making it more difficult for Obama to close Guantanamo or try KSM in federal court during that timeframe.
All along, a majority of the American people supported the use of military commissions to try terrorists.
Regardless of the reasons for the announcement, the administration has finally made a choice. The victims of 9/11 have waited too long for justice. The trial, which will take years to complete even in military commissions, is huge step in the right direction.
To read more about military commissions, and compare the rules in military commissions to international tribunals, click here.