Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Proceeding With Military Tribunals is the Politically Safest Approach

I've heard it suggested that, having given up on trying to convince Congress to stop blocking the closing of Camp Delta or the trial of suspected terrorists in federal court, President Obama will pay a political price for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed before a military tribunal.

No. He won't. He'll get a political benefit.

Seriously, is there even one person in the United States for whom this is the issue that will cause him to... I guess stay home, or vote for a third party candidate? I'm reminded of surveys on the death penalty that show a population roughly split on its application in the abstract, but where you can get @90% consensus in favor of the death penalty when you ask about a specific, notorious criminal (Ted Bundy, Jeff Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, etc.) This is no different. The general public is perfectly content with the idea of giving the detainees at Guantanamo Bay the proverbial "fair trial before they're convicted." A military tribunal? Close enough to fair, and it's the verdict that counts.

If we're honest about it, there is no realistic chance that Khalid Sheik Mohammed would be acquitted in a civilian trial. That was a line of nonsense pushed by the political right to smear the President as being "weak on terror". His chances of acquittal at a military tribunal are less and, although he may have have a better chance on appeal from a conviction at a military tribunal, it's the conviction that counts. A high profile set of convictions going into the election season with the political right unable to do anything but grumble that "the convictions would have happened sooner if he hadn't had so much faith in our nation's system of justice". Criticism from the left? Sure, it will happen, but who is going to be paying attention? Most Democratic politicians and opinion leaders will talk up the convictions, and most Democratic voters won't care about the lack of due process at a military tribunal any more than they cared when Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Given the likely tone of the media coverage, most will probably think it's a good thing.

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