By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Obama administration has seemed somewhat indecisive of late about key elements of the war on terror. It was not a subject that received a great deal of attention in his remarks to the Congress Wednesday night but it is a subject that is very much on the minds of everyone else. "In the wake of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, defending the country from future terrorist attacks," the Pew Research Center said in a report released earlier this week, remains a top priority for the American people.
Obama referenced aspects of the war on terror just a handful of times, giving it about the same degree of attention as he gave to the use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans and to upbraiding members of the United States Supreme Court over their recent decision regarding campaign finance laws and the First Amendment.
Central to the issue at the moment is the upcoming civil trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men. That trial, which critics would have preferred occur in front of a military tribunal at the U.S.-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was--to the surprise of many--sent by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to a U.S. federal court located in New York City.
The decision to locate the trial there was part of the effort by the Obama administration to close down Guantanamo, something the president strongly endorsed at the time. "I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subjected to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it," he said while Holder announced he would be seeking the death penalty.
Obama was later forced to temper his statement on the matter, lest he been seen as pronouncing the men guilty in advance of their trial, but the hard-edged image stuck. But now, with Guantanamo still open, the administration seems to be getting cold feet after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was now opposed to the administration's plan.
Bloomberg's announcement prompted the White House, the New York Daily News reported late Thursday, to order the Department of Justice "to consider other places to try the 9/11 terror suspects after a wave of opposition to holding the trial in lower Manhattan."
The president, a White House spokesman said, remains committed to a civilian trial. Nevertheless, the seemingly hurry-up decision to move the trial to New York City and the equally abrupt decision to move it away from there smacks of federal officials acting before thinking. It projects indecision, which might be OK when discussing the right way to count the impact the stimulus has had on job creation but is positively irresponsible when it comes to the war on terror.
Gen. James Jones, the president's national security adviser, promised the nation there would be no "strike three" following the failed attempt to blow up that airliner on Christmas Day. The wavering over the location of something as certain as the trial as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--as opposed to defending against something random, like a terrorist attack--does not instill confidence in the electorate. Nor should it.