What’s Left: Courting the Fear Vote



In recent weeks, the question of how to prosecute terrorists has come to the forefront of the news cycle. Since November of last year, Attorney General Eric Holder, among other members of the Obama Administration, has advocated for this avenue of justice for the prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

As a liberal and a supporter of President Obama, I initially agreed with his administration’s plans. In theory, I think prosecuting terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the United States in New York City provides an opportunity to demonstrate that America espouses due process of law for all and sees it as a universal value.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has made a career out of terrorism, involving himself in the planning and execution of numerous terror attacks on the United States, has devoted himself to the hatred of the US and has confessed to a number of crimes. However, holding his trial in New York City imposes not only financial costs and logistical problems, but also creates another security threat to the city. Though the symbolism of bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to justice in New York City may seem fitting, the other benefits of holding the trial are ambiguous and seem to be outweighed by the potential for further damages to the city.

The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed poses the question of how to deal with known terrorists, especially in the wake of the Christmas Day Bombing. The perpetrator, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, was treated as a criminal instead of as an enemy combatant: for example, he was read his Miranda rights.

Republicans have used both of these instances as foundation to criticize the Obama Administration’s national security policy and to paint Democrats as weak on defense. While I agree that the initial decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City was a poor choice, for Republicans to chastise the decision to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah his Miranda rights is hypocritical political posturing used to reinforce the stereotype that Democrats are weak on defense.

The Bush Administration had the same policy in regards to reading terror suspects their Miranda rights. In a letter to Republican senator Mitch McConnell, Attorney General Eric Holder explained that the treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah was “fully consistent with the long-established and publicly known policies and practices of the Department of Justice, the FBI and the United States Government as a whole, as implemented for many years by Administrations of both parties.” How interesting then, with midterm elections coming up, that Republicans are now choosing to make the policy an issue.