President Obama badly needs to remind Americans how much they disliked George Bush. With soaring unemployment, ballooning budget deficits, ugly wrangling over health care, failure on climate change, indecision on Afghanistan, rising trade wars, churlishness from China, and dead-end diplomacy efforts in Iran, Honduras, Israel and Palestine, a case could be made that things aren’t going too well for our young president. -- It was so much easier when Americans were content with just toppling the last guy.
This may be why Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed aka "KSM" in New York’s federal court. Putting the Bush administration on trial by reigniting the outrage over torture will come at a good time, perhaps distracting the public from Obama’s sinking poll numbers. Much as they have tried to push off the day, this administration is now perilously close to having to take responsibility for our monstrous unemployment and grotesque deficits. What better time to rev up the horror of waterboarding among the anti-Bush contingent? Or, to allow KSM a platform for some effective anti-Bush rhetoric all on his own?
In the transcript of his military tribunal, Mohammed took some shots at Bush. “You know the President he … makes his oath and he lied.” Undoubtedly there will be more where that came from. He also roundly condemned the United States, which he claims has “oppressed” Muslims and has treated detainees unfairly. He describes the U.S. as clueless about the involvements of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. “When America invaded Afghanistan, they just arrive in Afghanistan cause they hear there (sic) enemy. They don’t know what it means Al Qaeda or Usama or Taliban.” Some of us might be inclined to agree with him, but these kinds of accusations will doubtless again have us looking backward as a nation, blaming the Bush administration for, well, nearly everything.
The administration has suggested that they are eager to showcase the even-handedness of our legal system. Since President Obama has already reassured the nation that KSM will be convicted and executed, it’s a little hard to trumpet our adherence to the “innocent til proven guilty” notion. New Yorkers are worried (rightly) about the security implications of hosting such a high-profile trial, disgusted with the estimated $75 million price tag for the trial and many are concerned that attempting to deliver justice to this fanatic will become a circus, causing yet more anguish for the families and friends of those killed in the Twin Towers.
Most worrisome is that this terrible person -- who has confessed to having orchestrated the murder of thousands of Americans and has begged to executed -- may well go free. By deciding to try KSM in a federal civilian court, Holder has committed to the rule of law that governs criminal proceedings. He has, in effect, guaranteed this terrorist’s civil rights. That may turn out to have been a great error. Considering that KSM was taken prisoner by soldiers unconcerned with the niceties of Miranda Rights and rules of evidence and that he is accused of crimes planned in a foreign country and actually performed by others, there is a distinct possibility that crucial evidence will be tossed and that the case will falter. In his tribunal statement, Mohammed claims to have been responsible for nearly every terrorist act since he was born – a list of 29 different events or undertakings that span the globe and that include the attempted assassination of several former presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Seriously, the list could well lead a defense attorney to claim that KSM is delusional.
The judge in this case and KSM's legal team will likely press issues of evidence, of appropriate legal counsel and about the impossibility of receiving a fair trial in New York. For all these reasons, this monster could walk.
Why take this chance? Team Obama clearly weighed the political pros and cons of unleashing this nightmare on New York. What is to be gained? Do we really think that by parading the messiness of our legal system before the world we will make converts to our way of life? The more likely answer is that President Obama decided that the time was right for another wave of Bush nausea. The Obama team is exhausted from their push to pass health care legislation, worn down by opposition from Americans and by dissension in the president's own party. Their lofty liberal ambitions -- for gays, for climate change, for card check -- lie in tatters. They sorely need a shot of adrenaline. You can just hear the charge from the Oval Office: Bring Back George Bush!
Liz Peek is a financial columnist and frequent Fox Forum contributor.