POLITICS

Obama's Poised To 'Get Punked' On KSM Decision

05/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In today's Washington Post, Anne Kornblut and Peter Finn provide readers with the long-form speculation that the Obama administration is close to reversing its decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court and will instead recommend that the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind be prosecuted in a military tribunal.

Good news for fans of timidity and ineffective quasi-judicial grab-ass. Bad news for fans of the rule of law -- as well as everyone who's taken pains to point out to President Barack Obama that compromising with his fear-mongering political opponents isn't gaining him anything.

But it's the vain pursuit of some across-the-aisle "atta boy" that's fueling this decision:

Top Obama advisers have been negotiating with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) -- a vocal critic of trying the Sept. 11 suspects in civilian court -- in pursuit of a deal that would secure his help in closing Guantanamo. Graham has sought the creation a legal framework that would spell out how the government would detain and try future captives, but an administration official warned that a "grand bargain" is not likely in the immediate future. The official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the talks with Graham have been mostly about "limited issues" involving the Mohammed trial and the future of Guantanamo.

I can't even begin to fathom where anyone got the idea that Lindsey Graham was some sort of vote-marshaling force. As a test case, let's consider the fact that Graham's influence wasn't sufficient to talk his two BFFs -- Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- out of introducing the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010, which would bar anyone deemed an "enemy combatant" from participating in the legal system.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an Air Force Reserves Judge Advocate General, told Fox he usually "understands what John and Joe are trying to do," but he added, "I just don't feel comfortable with it. There is a role for the civilian courts to play."

But nobody listens to Lindsey Graham, other than the Obama White House, which is apparently not clued in to the fact that nobody listens to Lindsey Graham.

One could write a thousand words about where this places the White House, in terms of the poor decision it seems poised to make, but these 98 from Spencer Ackerman will do quite nicely:

The Cheneyite right has spent the last couple days accusing members of the Justice Department of being al-Qaeda sympathizers for the crime of lawyering in the tradition of John Adams. This will only intensify if Obama backs down on KSM. It will not stop. Here is a test case for the administration: both the politics and the substance of the situation favor continuing with the KSM criminal trial; backing down will create a cascading effect in which the GOP knows it can obstruct Obama and it can bend him, but Obama will simply not fight for his priorities.

Or, if you prefer the version that will fit on a T-shirt: "His compromises earn him no good will. He is being, simply, punked."

The only thing I'd add is that it's fair to see all of this as a battle between White House legal advisers and White House political advisers. And the White House political advisers clearly aren't worth a good goddamn.

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