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Posted at 10:31 AM ET, 12/10/2010

Is the administration caving on federal criminal trials for Gitmo detainees?

By Adam Serwer

Two days ago, the House passed a funding bill that contains a ban on using federal funds for criminal trials against Gitmo detainees, particularly alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, that would last at least until September of next year. The administration says it opposes the ban.

But here's the question: Would the administration actually prefer it if the ban passed anyway?

Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell calling the ban "an extreme and risky encroachment on the authority of the executive branch." Facing the possibility of a ban in February, Holder wrote another letter to Congress along the same lines. Only on that letter he was joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which gave the added weight to the idea that this would be an interference with the president's authority as commander in chief. Despite the fact that a ban would compound the already monumental difficulty of closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, as Charlie Savage reports, the mood in the Senate isn't exactly one of urgency:

There was little immediate reaction to his letter in Congress, which has been rushing to finish work on many matters in the post-election session. But several aides to lawmakers said it was far from clear that the Senate would seek to modify it, noting that most Democrats in the House voted for the measure. (Republicans opposed the spending bill for other reasons.)

An administration spokesman made a statement saying it "strongly opposes" the provision, but it doesn't actually seem to be strongly opposing it. In a profile of Holder a few weeks ago, Wil S. Hylton portrayed Holder's commitment to federal criminal trials for the 9/11 defendants as at odds with political operatives in the White House concerned over the political cost.

With successful conviction of former Gitmo detainee Ahmed Ghailani having been portrayed as a massive failure for a civilian trials system where only 1 percent of terrorism cases actually end in acquittal, the administration may have simply decided that the political price for trying Gitmo detainees isn't worth it. The possibility of having to fight a protracted war over such proposals for the next two years as Republicans take over the House probably doesn't seem appealing.

Simply caving on trying Gitmo detainees would alarm and frustrate supporters on the left. Rather than simply looking like it's surrendered, the administration can just plead helplessness. By placing the blame on an unruly and uncooperative Congress, it could shirk responsibility for having to bring any more suspected terrorists to justice, at least for the next year. This way, two problems are "solved" -- it can avoid the political cost of another trial and do so without looking like it's deliberately folding on a key campaign promise.

Between the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts and the failure of the Senate to repeal don't ask don't tell, the past week has been a frustrating one for disillusioned liberals growing more alarmed over the administration's inability to keep its promises. But there may be more disappointment to come if the administration abandons yet another key commitment to the rule of law.

By Adam Serwer  | December 10, 2010; 10:31 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security  
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Next: How the White House will sell angry House Dems on tax cut deal


"disillusioned liberals growing more alarmed over the administration's inability to keep its promises"


This is getting SO OLD AND TIRED.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 10, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse


Bill Clinton is the ol' perfesser now.

Obama the eager student.

Throw the looney leftists under the Obama bus and start that re-election process.

I knew this would happen. It had to.

In other news:

If the lame-duck session ends without the passage of amnesty legislation (DREAM act), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has vowed that he and other Hispanic leaders will stage a full-tilt campaign of “civil disobedience,” like the African-American civil-rights movement of the 1960s. (The Daily Beast, Dec. 1, 2010) During an interview with The Daily Beast published last week, Rep. Gutierrez promised there will be protests, marches, and sit-ins in an attempt to garner support for amnesty legislation."

So the outlaw "immigrants" are going to be disobedient some more. What's new about that??

Americans are tired of these ongoing, amnesty schemes perpetrated by the usual suspects. It's time to stop it now.

Posted by: battleground51 | December 10, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

You all realize the GOP is f'in with people talking about triangulation right? They're probably digging through Clinton's Presidency with a fine tooth comb and finding every thing Clinton did to piss off the left and create phony narratives about it and echo it beat the drum with it for a few days to get everyone all worked up.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 10, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"You all realize the GOP is f'in with people talking about triangulation right?"


Mike, you do realize that when the GOP says "Boo" the "Liberals" jump. Especially the Professional Left.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 10, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Same with the MSM, Mike.

Example #1:

At First Read they discuss the “Cluster” vs. “network” liberals meme from David Brooks' column. The MSM go for pretty much ANYTHING the GOP says because they are chickensh*t cowards who suck up to power for "access". They are not journalists.

When is First Read going to frame the debate based on, oh, Eugene Robinson's columns or Steve Benen's consistently on-point analysis????

N-e-v-e-r that's when.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 10, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Wow, the whining and bleating has begin already today. I've always wondered if liberals were in a pertpetual state of outrage. It certainly seems that way.

What is so amusing about Mr Sargent's essay is the insight into the liberal mind it provides. Liberals are, shocked, shocked I say, that the Democrats would vote for a bill that makes dealing with Gitmo in the liberal mode impossible. but what never seems to cross his mind is the idea that perhap the liberal way is just plain wrong and members of congress understand that.

Nah, that can't be it. It can't possibly be that the entire gitmo crap sandwhich was just faux outrage ginned up to embarrass a president the left cordially hated.

Nah. Liberals would never engage in pure demagoguery on an important issue of national security. Of course not. What was I thinking?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 10, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Only a rabid Rightwinger would crow about granting amnesty *in exchange* for serving in the military.

In fact, 78% support anmesty in exchange for military service:

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | December 10, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Another example of the political media missing out on crucial political messages is the GOP's rejection of high-speed rail.

This is CLEARLY a sop to the anti-government Tea Party. And it will cost GOP-run states billions of dollars, hundreds or thousands of jobs, and any kind of progress that automatically comes with infrastructure investment.

Benen has a good one this morning on this topic that has gone largely ignored:

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 10, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

This is an even better article on the trains fiasco, really a MUST read for anyone interested in the battle between a morally and fiscally bankrupt right-wing ideology and common sense:

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 10, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh please, please lefties, make a HUGE deal out of the rejection of "high speed" rail. Please, I pray, fall on that sword. Please.

In Ohio the loser govenor strickland backed rail big time. He also got thumped big time. And the guy that beat him was clear from the get go that if he won, the proposed rail link was DOA.

Let's use the Ohio proposal as a guide in examining the entire stupid idea. The trip from Cincinnati to cleveland would take more than five hours. The "high speed" the train would average is a whopping 39 mph. While the feds would provide 400 mil to build it, the citizens of Ohio would have to run it and maintain it. Those millions won't be coming from passengers unless those passengers are willing to pay thousands for a ticket.

I've never understood the left's romantic attachment to trains. I supose its the fact that the government has to run them and therefore more rail means more government which means more government employees which means more union which means more campaign contributions to Democrats who vote for raises for the rail employees.

yeah, that's the ticket.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 10, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but this argument makes no sense--Obama is caving because his own party voted to block him from doing something? I mean, I guess you could say he's caving because both parties are blocking him and, at some point, it's not as productive to try to fight--but wouldn't it make more sense to say that CONGRESS is blocking any effort to deal more humanely with Guantanamo?

Posted by: brad123456 | December 10, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

what could possbibly be called inhumane about the facility at gitmo? that's just ignorance on display brad123456

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 10, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps those "increasingly alarmed" should have got off their buns & helped instead of your incessant whining, daily at your keyboards.

Posted by: carolerae48 | December 15, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: carolerae48 | December 15, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

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