In a major about-face, the Obama administration has decided to try avowed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a military commission in Guantanamo Bay rather than in a civilian court. This afternoon Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce that KSM and four other accused 9/11 plotters will stand before a panel of military officers.
In 2009, the Obama administration vowed to try KSM in a federal civilian court in New York City, signifying a break from the Bush administration's heavy reliance on military courts. At the time, the decision pitted national security hawks, who argued that terrorist shouldn't be afforded the rights of a civilian court, against civil libertarians who longed for a return to due process.
That debate was re-ignited in the blogosphere. On the left, the reaction has been terse anger thus far. The San Francisco Examiner's David Freddoso simply runs the headline "George W. Bush announces running for fourth term," in a post that links to CBS News. Marcy Wheeler does the same with the headline "This Presidential Campaign Brought to You by a Massive Capitulation on Civilian Law." The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen, going into more depth, says the decision will "likely be considered one of Holder's most disappointing legacies at the Justice Department."
"Holder's retreat in United States v. Mohammed won't likely change the defendant's fate at all," he writes. "He'll still be convicted and likely sentenced to death -- as he surely would have been had his case been left to jurors in lower downtown New York -- only it will probably now happen sooner rather than later."
On the right, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air calls the decision the result of "theoretical thinking meeting some hard realities."
"Obama stopped the commission’s trial of KSM immediately upon taking office even though KSM had indicated he’d plead guilty," he writes. "Now that process has to start over, wasting more time and resources for nothing more than two years of grandstanding. In the end, Obama not only didn’t close Gitmo, he actually showed how necessary it is for dealing with terrorists captured abroad by our military and intelligence assets."
Another byproduct of this decision will likely be a delayed closure of Guantanamo, notes Ryan Reilly at Talking Points Memo. "The announcement effectively kills the dwindling hopes of human rights groups that the Obama administration could somehow figure out a way to close Guantanamo Bay in the next few years despite opposition from Congress."
Update: Holder announcement live feed: