The Obama administration’s forthcoming announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other Sept. 11 conspirators prisoners will be tried in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, is “clearly just a political decision,” Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate at Human Rights First, told TPM in an interview.
The administration’s huge reversal on the issue, about to be announced by Attorney General Eric Holder, goes against what Obama said from the earliest days of his 2008 campaign.
“[Obama] campaigned on closing Guantanamo, bringing suspected terrorists to justice in legitimate federal court. He repeatedly made statements about that — one of his first actions in office was to announce he was going to close Guantanamo,” Eviatar said. “Now he’s announcing his re-election campaign and basically saying we are going to keep having Guantanamo open indefinitely.”
Both Obama and Holder have acknowledged that the military commissions are legally problematic and subject to constitutional challenge, said Eviatar.
“If you look back, you’ll see the statements that were made — both by President Obama and by Attorney General Eric Holder just a couple a years ago — about why it was important to bring these people to justice in civilian courts and why they’re confident that civilian courts can handle this,” she said. “Then you see this response now, it’s clearly just a political decision.”
A bigger concern, Eviatar said, was the precedent this will set. “This also threatens to make this kind of military commissions a permanent feature of the United States justice system, and that’s a very dangerous idea.”
“This is really a brand new, cobbled together justice system with a lot of legal infirmities and it threatens to make this a permanent new feature of the American legal landscape and that’s really problematic,” Eviatar said.
“This is really a second class justice system, it does not have experienced judges, it does not have experienced prosecutors with experience prosecuting terrorism cases,” according to Eviatar.
Holder’s news conference at Justice Department headquarters starts at 2 p.m. Watch it live here.
Late update: “Instead of allowing Congress to browbeat it into making such a risky decision, the administration should have worked with Congress to repeal harmful legislation that essentially took civilian trials off of the table,” Constitution Project Counsel Mason C. Clutter said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Melissa Jeltsen.