Naturally, the Obama administration was pleased with Tuesday's news that Faisal Shazad has been sentenced to life in prison for his failed attempt to set off a car bomb in the middle of Time Square. In fairly blunt legal terms, one aide put it, it's "hard to imagine getting a much better sentence than life."
But the day's news also offered the White House and Justice Department a chance to gloat for sticking to their convictions that a civilian legal setting was the proper venue for a trial. While other terrorist suspects have languished in military tribunals, Shazad's quick conviction underscores the argument that the president -- not his conservative critics -- has the exemplary counter-terrorism record.
"Despite what the critics said, he was arrested, he was read his Miranda rights, he provided us with valuable intelligence, he was prosecuted and he is going to spend his life in jail," an administration official told the Huffington Post. "Once again, solid law enforcement and intelligence work has proven more effective in securing our nation than irresponsible partisan sniping."
The progressive community, which has feuded with the White House on a host of national security fronts while remaining largely supportive of the president's commitment to civilian trials, made similar arguments after the Shazad news emerged on Tuesday. Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the highest profile and strictest-principled voice on the matter, made the argument that: "[Y]et again, civilian courts -- i.e., real courts -- provide far swifter and more certain punishment for Terrorists than do newly concocted military commissions."
"Shazad was convicted and sent to life in prison," added Ken Gude, the managing director of the National Security and International Policy Program at American Progress. "He will live out his years in obscurity in a super-max prison in Colorado. Fears that the criminal justice system can't hand cases of international terrorist are as unfounded today as they were for the last ten-year... During that time the military commissions have only resolved three cases."
Not surprisingly, the (largely conservative) voices who criticized Obama for putting Shazad through the criminal justice system in the first place were not won over by Tuesday's conviction. If anything, they argued, the president had been the beneficiary of a bit of luck, owing to Shazad's willingness to keep talk even when advised that he had a legal right not to.
"A bit of luck [was] involved" in securing the conviction, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told Politico's Ben Smith.
"President Obama and his administration still seem to believe they can keep this nation safe by convicting terrorists in civilian courts," said Liz Cheney, head of the hawkish, Keep America Safe. "We tried that policy throughout the 1990s and gained convictions of key terrorists. None of those convictions prevented the terrorists from attacking us again and again. Americans expect their government to disrupt plots and defeat terrorists before they can attack us. The Times Square bomber's attack failed not because it was thwarted, but because his bomb failed to detonate. Being lucky is not a responsible counterterrorism strategy, and convictions in civilian courts will not keep this country safe."
A call to Rep. Pete Hoekstra's (R-Mich) office, was not immediately returned. The Michigan Republican has been a vocal critic of the president's policy on trying terrorists in civilian settings.
The White House, of course, does not want to leave any impression of trying to draw political points from a national security matter. And while officials allowed themselves to gloat a bit on the condition of anonymity, the on-the-record statement was far more even-tempered.
"We are pleased that this terrorist has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, after providing substantial intelligence to our interrogators and a speedy civilian trial," said White House Spokesman Nick Shapiro. "We tried the case in a civilian court, we were able to use everything that he said and everything that we uncovered for intelligence collection purposes. His trial served no propaganda purpose for al Qaeda, and only underscored the strength of our justice system. The case shows once again how our values and the rule of law can keep us safe against those determined to do us harm on behalf of terrorist organizations overseas."
This piece was updated with a quote from Cheney's office.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more