Giving Obama Points For Trying

Last night, the White House let leak a trial balloon (if you’ll pardon the pun) — top aides are working on reversing the decision to try the 9/11 conspirators in federal court, and giving them back to the military tribunals set up under the Bush administration. This would be a stunning reversal, as Obama and several of his top advisors — chief among them Attorney General Eric Holder — had made such a stink out of giving them a fair trial, and then hanging them.

Naturally, I find myself Hopeful for this Change. These terrorists have no business in civil courts. They are not criminals.

Yeah, they committed crimes, and broke the laws of the United States. But they aren’t criminals, in the conventional sense. Terrorists, I’ve long argued, combine the worst elements of criminals and soldiers — and treating them as either makes no sense. They are “unlawful combatants,” and there are only vague rules on how to treat them justly.

During the Bush administration, there was a bit of common sense — since these vermin have a foot in both worlds, create a system that draws from both to handle them. The result were military commissions — a “court system” set up and run by the military for this specific purpose, set up outside the borders of the US and overseen — very, very closely — by civilians (the president, in his role as “commander in chief,” and his designated representatives).

Naturally, as something never tried before, it had its teething pains. But that was no great surprise, as we were trying (no pun intended) something that had never happened before. But we were getting closer to an ideal solution when Obama got elected and decided to trash the whole concept.

Now he’s having second thoughts. (Or, to be a bit snarky, first thoughts. He didn’t put much of his legendary brainpower into the first decision.) Since he can’t find a locale that’s willing to cooperate in having the terrorist trials in their municipality, he’s giving those big, bad, evil, unjust, internationally loathed military tribunals another look.

I’m going to take the high road here. (It’s a novel experience for me.) I’m not interested in gloating. And I don’t need a pound of flesh over this. I don’t need Obama to give a grand mea culpa over having taken the wrong course. I don’t need Holder to resign over being trumped. (I wouldn’t reject either, but I don’t feel like calling for them.) I’m just relieved that sanity seems to be prevailing.

Change your course, Mr. President. Bow to reality and common sense. Personally, I pledge to not hold your reversal on this matter against you. And I hope others will do so, too — some things are too important to turn into political cudgels.

Jay Cost on the House and Health Care
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