Will Obama Hand the Cheneys - And Al Qaeda - A Victory?

The Washington Post reports that "President Obama's advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal," reversing Attorney General Holder's plan to try him in civilian court:

Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, acting chief defense counsel at the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions, said it would be a "sad day for the rule of law" if Obama decides not to proceed with a federal trial. "I thought the decision where to put people on trial -- whether federal court or military commissions -- was based on what was right, not what is politically advantageous," Colwell said.

When he announced his decision to close Guantanamo Bay prison, President Obama said this:

"This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our Founding Fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."

If the Obama administration abandons its effort to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in civilian court, it would represent a significant capitulation by President Obama to his political enemies, and a betrayal of his supporters who took seriously his promises to bring America's anti-terrorism policies back within bounds of the law.

It will also represent a significant propaganda victory for Al Qaeda, who crave the status and recognition that treating them as "soldiers" in a "war" bestows, and would love to be able to show the world that Obama, just like Bush and Cheney, will cast American principles aside when faced with a threat.

President Obama should understand by now that no matter how much he reaches out his hand to his neoconservative critics, they will never unclench their fists. They'll just look for a new place to strike. The president's struggle to cultivate bipartisanship is admirable. But a bipartisan consensus in favor of fashioning a new legal framework for dealing with an age-old problem -- terrorism -- is worse than worthless, it's an admission to Al Qaeda, and to world, that our existing institutions aren't strong enough to deal with it, and that we'll abandon our core values when it gets hard.