Examiner Editorial: Move terrorist trials back to military courts 

A semblance of common sense is returning — albeit too slowly — to the Obama administration’s deliberations on what to do with terrorists such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other al-Qaida operatives tentatively slated to be tried in federal civil courts in lower Manhattan.

This week’s decision to “consider other venues” came after weeks of pounding from local, state and national leaders who pointed out in a 1,000 different ways the insanity of granting terrorists the same legal rights as American citizens and trying them in our civil courtrooms instead of U.S. military tribunals. Pressure to at least change the location of the KSM trial came from across the political spectrum, as seen in a joint letter to the president from Sens. Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Jim Webb, John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsay Graham. They warned President Barack Obama that a New York trial would give the terrorists “one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism.”

Pressure in New York and elsewhere to move the KSM proceedings has been steadily building in the weeks since the administration opted to try 23-year-old Nigerian-born terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civil court.

That decision meant a free lawyer, courtesy of the taxpayers, for Abdulmutallab, who alledgedly concealed in his underwear an explosive that could have incinerated him and nearly 300 passengers and crew members on Northwest Air’s Flight 253 on Christmas Day. The device failed to detonate and he was subdued by passengers on the aircraft.

But after being arrested on the ground in Detroit and questioned for 50 minutes, Abdulmutallab clammed up completely on the advice of his tax-paid U.S. lawyer. Incredibly, Justice Department officials handled Abdulmutallab without talking to the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the secretaries of Homeland Security or Defense, the Director of National Intelligence or the FBI director. Treating him as a common criminal thus denied the U.S. of priceless intelligence that could save thousands of innocent lives.

The Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the military tribunals, which have been used throughout U.S. history, yet Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder still talk as if the civil courts are the only way to insure that justice is done. The implicit insult to the U.S. military is simply outrageous. And given the Abdulmutallab fiasco, it is mystifying that the president and Holder remain adamant about trying terrorists in civil courts.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, “From an intelligence perspective, I think the situation has changed with the Christmas attack.” The issue now is whether Obama and Holder will come to their senses before more Americans are killed by alleged terrorists like Abdulmutallab and KSM.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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