Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court, an Obama administration official said Friday.It's been pointed out elsewhere by legal experts all around the blogosphere that this is a manifestly bad idea.
The official said Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce the decision later in the morning.
The official is not authorized to discuss the decision before the announcement, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bringing such notorious suspects to U.S. soil to face trial is a key step in President Barack Obama's plan to close the terror suspect detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama initially planned to close the detention center by Jan. 22, but the administration is no longer expected to meet that deadline.
It is also a major legal and political test of Obama's overall approach to terrorism. If the case suffers legal setbacks, the administration will face second-guessing from those who never wanted it in a civilian courtroom. And if lawmakers get upset about notorious terrorists being brought to their home regions, they may fight back against other parts of Obama's agenda.
Once introduced into the US criminal justice system, these jokers will receive full protection under the Constitution, and at trial, anything can happen.
I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that for the purposes of a criminal trial in a civilian court, little to no evidence already collected by the military will be admissible. Certainly, no information obtained from KSM while being waterboarded will be admissible. Once he's in New York, prosecutors will effectively have to build a case from scratch.
I'm eager to see what legal experts have to say about this today. There must be scores of scenarios in which a judge might be forced to dismiss the charges and kick him loose.
Consequences. Elections have consequences.
Update: A few hours ago on Twitter I said, "If ANY of these trials go sideways for the prosecution, Obama's done in 2012.", and it occurred to me that Obama clearly knows this. So why, exactly, is he taking such a political gamble by shipping five terrorists from Gitmo to New York for trial? One thing it suggests is that the evidence the prosecution will submit makes it a slam dunk in all five of the cases. That seems unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibility. Another way Obama can avoid catastrophic political blowback is if the trials are delayed until after the 2012 elections, but that's three whole years away, and the Obama administration would come under fire from all sides if it appeared the trials were being delayed for political convenience. If all five are brought to trial very swiftly and something goes bad for the prosecution in just one and one of these guys walks, then those three years aren't going to be long enough for Obama to get over the backlash. In fact, under those circumstances, the only thing that would prevent impeachment proceedings before 2012 is the Democrats' majority in Congress.
So aside from appeasing the lunatic fringe of the loony left, is there any upside in doing this?