Obama Retreat on War; the Return to Pre-2001 Criminal Law Mind-Set

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeffrey T. Kuhner, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The war on terror is over. The decision to prosecute the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, along with his al Qaeda cohorts, in federal court marks a political watershed. President Obama seeks to return America to a pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mind-set. Terrorism is to be treated - as in the 1990s - as a criminal law enforcement matter.

The administration's decision to hold Mohammed's trial in a New York City civilian court, just a few blocks away from ground zero, is irresponsible and grotesque. Foreign terrorists who commit atrocities against American civilians will be given full constitutional and legal protections. They are to be treated like any common murderer or rapist. This will embolden jihadists to wage more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Ironically, the administration has provided an incentive for Islamists to strike us here rather than abroad. Captured insurgents who have killed American troops in Afghanistan or Iraq are tried under military commissions. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the perpetrators of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors, will be tried in a military tribunal. Yet the Sept. 11 terrorists are held to different standards.

Hence, terrorists who murder Americans overseas are tried under more severe, limited legal conditions. But Mohammed and his henchmen are rewarded with a civilian trial and all its extra privileges and rights. The message to jihadists is clear: Leave the mountains of Afghanistan and come to kill in America; Uncle Sam will pick up the tab for the trial and provide you with an attorney, too.

Under our criminal justice system, Mohammed will be allowed to review all the information the prosecution has amassed against him. The U.S. government will be compelled to disclose its intelligence-gathering methods and sources (including those working undercover who have infiltrated al Qaeda groups). Our intelligence network will be badly compromised in the name of preserving Mohammed's civil rights.

This is an act of unilateral disarmament in the face of Islamist fanatics. We have been down this road before. Following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the so-called blind sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, was tried in a U.S. civilian court.

Upon learning that the U.S. government was aware of about 200 other co-conspirators, Rahman's associates faxed their names within hours to Osama bin Laden, who was then in Sudan. Bin Laden warned his al Qaeda followers that their cover had been blown and ordered them to go into hiding. Many of them would play key roles in subsequent terror acts - including the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa. A civilian trial transmitted our intelligence secrets to al Qaeda and crippled our anti-terrorist capabilities.

Since Sept. 11, the great divide between conservatives and liberals has been over the nature and meaning of that fateful day. …