WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four years after his failed effort to bring the 9/11 mastermind to New York for trial, President Barack Obama has reinstated the federal courthouse as America’s preferred venue for prosecuting suspected terrorists.
His administration has done so by quietly securing conviction after conviction in the civilian judicial system. Meanwhile at Guantanamo Bay, admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s case moves at a snail’s pace.
Tuesday’s expected arraignment of suspected al-Qaida member Abu Anas al-Libi is the latest example of Obama’s de facto policy. Al-Libi was captured in a military raid in Libya earlier this month and had been under interrogation aboard a U.S. warship.
The Obama administration says it considers all options for prosecuting terrorists, weighing military and civilian trials on a case-by-case basis.
But Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military base that embodied America’s post-9/11 methods of interrogating and prosecuting suspected terrorists, has turned into a legal morass. The military commission’s poor case record has become less about winning and more about completion.
While the Justice Department says more than 125 people have been convicted of terrorism charges in federal courts since 2009, not a single military commission has come to a close during that period.
Of the few military commissions completed under President George W. Bush, most resulted in short sentences or have been overturned.
“There’s really no comparison in terms of the success rate,” said David Raskin, the former top national security prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. “Not really between wins or losses, just finishing the cases. There’s no comparison at this point.”
The politics are breaking Obama’s way too.
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2009 that Mohammed would be tried in New York City, the outcry from both political parties was great.