This column originally appeared on BigGoverment.com on December 1, 2009.
Ex-White House counsel Greg Craig thought it was a good idea to transfer Eliàn Gonzalez from the arms of his loving family in Miami into the arms of Fidel Castro. Transfer Eliàn from Florida to Cuba. Bad idea. Attorney General Janet Reno thought she might have to prove her toughness by transferring dozens of women and children from a Waco cult headquarters to eternity. Really bad idea.
But Eric Holder’s plan to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from Guantànamo Bay to Manhattan for a civilian trial is perhaps liberals’ worst idea in years. KSM and his cohorts had agreed to plead guilty before a military tribunal, accept a sentence of death, and speedily rendezvous with their 72 ladies-in-waiting.
This offer of an efficient way out for the administration was not good enough for Attorney General Eric Holder. He insists on trying the terrorists before a civilian jury in federal court, just a few hundred yards from Ground Zero. Next to martyrdom and a free trip to paradise, this has to be the terrorists’ wildest dream.
No turbaned genie ever appeared out of Aladdin’s lamp to grant three greater wishes than these. KSM to Genie: One, I want to exploit my status as mass-murdering terrorist; Two, I want to inflict even greater pain and suffering on the families of those thousands whom I’ve murdered; Three, I want to make my trial a magnet for my brother jihadists throughout the world.
Of course, it’s always possible that this whole transfer could go without incident. But why in the world would anyone take such an utterly reckless risk, going from swift and sure justice on a military base in a foreign country, to an unpredictable gamble on our own shores, surrounded by civilians in our largest city?
Eric Holder’s decision to try the terrorists in Manhattan may not be simply the worst decision of this administration, it bids fair to stand with Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade as being among the worst decisions in American history.
Congress has the power to prevent this farce from going forward. Congress must spare us this travesty. Phyllis Schlafly has reminded us–serious student of the Constitution that that she is–that Congress has the power to restrict the appellate jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. Very true. But Congress has a power that would provide even more immediate relief: That power is the power of the purse.
We need to move quickly to deny Mr. Holder’s Justice Department any federal funds to transfer or try any of the Guantànamo detainees apart from military tribunals. President Obama is on record as approving those military tribunals. As a senator in 2006, he even voted for the measure that established those tribunals. Of course, he is now on record backing up his besieged attorney general.
We would actually be doing Mr. Obama a favor by having Congress override his hasty and reckless attorney general. I think the president would secretly heave a sigh of relief if Congress would prevent this gross error from going forward.
It’s vitally important that the people’s representatives speak on this point. It’s why we have checks and balances.
It’s ironic. The president–as commander-in-chief of the military–would have enormous discretion to handle this situation as he saw fit if the Defense Department retained custody of these terrorists. But by transferring them to the Justice Department, this becomes a domestic issue outside President Obama’s commander-in-chief power, giving Congress the upper hand in deciding how to proceed.
We should have a good chance of prevailing on a cutoff of federal funds for civilian trials of terrorists. How many members of Congress would relish the prospect of having to explain on the campaign trail next year why they voted to spend a minimum of $75 million a year on security for the New York show trials? Voters will especially object when they realize that Guantánamo Bay was built with taxpayer funds for precisely such trials. We’d have good prospects of winning on such a proposition. But even if we don’t carry this amendment, we would certainly have a vote that would be of intense interest to American voters as they approach the 2010 elections next fall
The ins and outs of the health care debate, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus require voters to pay the strictest attention as lawmakers wade through numerous 2,000+-page legislative behemoths. But an up-or-down vote on Holder’s Manhattan Transfer has a marvelous clarity. Let’s get clear.