Senator Graham Hints at a Deal on Guantánamo

On CBS's Face the Nation,Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina hinted at a deal in which he would help the White House convince his fellow Republicans to support closing the US detention facility at the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba if President Obama reverses course and commits to trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other 9/11 co-conspirators in military tribunals.

The background from Fox News:

The South Carolina Republican is considered to be a key player in the administration's strategy to close the detainee camp at Guantanamo. He supports shuttering the facility but opposes trying the alleged architects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in civilian court.

He acknowledged Sunday that he's willing to play ball with the White House on Guantanamo, provided it gives him what he wants on the terror trials.

"I don't believe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed robbed a liquor store. He's the mastermind of 9/11. ... If he's not an enemy combatant, who would be?" Graham told CBS' "Face the Nation."

He suggested that using the tribunals for such high-profile terror suspects would go a long way toward easing opposition from the right to closing Guantanamo and sending its detainees to U.S. soil.

"I can't do it by myself. But I think if we could get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators of 9/11 back in the military commission, it would go down well with the public," Graham said.

Congress has barred the transfer of prisoners who don't have a path to trial -- those who appear to be detained indefinitely -- and refused to give the president the money for a facility to house them on American soil. Meeting resistance, the Obama administration blew by its self-imposed deadline to have the Guantanamo prison closed by January.

A senior administration official told Fox News the decision on the trials, while "weeks away," is linked to a "basket of other issues" including obtaining congressional funding for a prison to house Guantanamo detainees in Thomson, Ill., and for other terror trials in federal civilian courts.

On Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union ran a full-page ad in The New York Times calling on the President not to back down from his Administration’s decision to prosecute the 9/11 suspects in Federal court. The ad comes in response to news reports that the Obama Administration is on the verge of reversing Attorney General Eric Holder's decision late last year to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others in Federal court in New York City.

The ACLU ad features a picture of President Obama morphing into a picture of former President Bush with the copy asking "Change or more of the same?"

the consequences of alienating perhaps irrevocably those for whom civil liberties are non-negotiable as well as the certainty that Cheney-led right will use the reversal to further paint the President as a dangerous neophyte who is weak, indecisive and who lacks the proper judgment to be Commander-in-Chief.

Such is the suggestion made by former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and former White House Counsel Burck writing in the National Review:

"No amount of spin could make this story look good, but the White House will try to claim victory if they get a deal to close Guantanamo. But that would be “victory” achieved by PR stunt because that’s all closing Guantanamo would amount to — an appeal to the hearts and minds of jihadists and the far Left overseas, at the expense of common sense and our national security. And we’ve got a bridge to sell anyone who believes this crowd will fall in love with America once Guantanamo is closed."

If the Obama Administration aims to court Senator Graham's support on the closing of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay via a political quid quo pro, the Administration should be aware of the price it will pay for putting politics before principle.

Anthony D. Romero, the Executive Director of the ACLU, makes it perfectly clear what's at stake in this decision:

“We placed this ad because it’s critical that Americans know what is at stake here: nothing less than America’s commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. The military commissions are seriously flawed and unprepared to handle these complex cases. If President Obama reverses his attorney general’s principled decision under political pressure, it will strike a devastating blow to American values and do serious damage to our nation’s credibility. We urge the president to do the right thing and keep these cases in federal court, where they belong.”

The imperative of upholding the rule of law trumps all other considerations. It is our commitment to the rule of law, even if it benefits our mortal enemies, that separates the civilized from uncivilized.

Tags: Senator Lindsey Graham, Guantánamo Bay, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, civil liberties (all tags)

Comments

2 Comments

Nice...

So lets get this straight - it's the Democratic controlled Congress which is blocking funds to close Gitmo and move it's inmates to a federal prison, but it's all the Administrations fault. I mean really, who made Graham the 50th vote on this issue?

by vecky 2010-03-07 11:48PM | 0 recs
RE: Nice...

Under the status quo we probably don't get to close Guantanamo OR have civilian trials for the 9/11 plotters, so I would find it hard to get overly upset if we end up trading one for the other.  I think Spencer Ackerman is probably right, though, that we're not really getting Republican votes in trade, all we're getting is the minimal amount of bipartisan cover that Lindsey Graham's vote provides by itself.

The only unseemly thing about the whole process is the idea that the venue where someone gets put on trial ends up as a political bargaining chip.  Political actors shouldn't be getting involved in that process.  But the die was cast some time ago when Obama decided that we're going to have an ad hoc process where some terrorists get civilian trials and some get military ones.  That might be the pragmatic solution, but it creates a glaring lack of a neutral principle for anyone to fall back on.

by Steve M 2010-03-08 02:30PM | 0 recs

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