Yoo v. Goldsmith on the KSM Trial

Last week, former OLC deputy John Yoo argued in the WSJ that the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York was a major mistake.

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

On Friday, two other former Bush Administration Justice Department officials, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and former OLC head Jack Goldsmith, took a decidedly different tack in the Washington Post.

Reasonable minds can disagree about Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged Sept. 11 perpetrators in a Manhattan federal court. But some prominent criticisms are exaggerated, and others place undue faith in military commissions as an alternative to civilian trials. . . .

Many of Holder’s critics appear to have forgotten that the Bush administration used civilian courts to put away dozens of terrorists, including “shoe bomber” Richard Reid; al-Qaeda agent Jose Padilla; “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh; the Lackawanna Six; and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for the same conspiracy for which Mohammed is likely to be charged. Many of these terrorists are locked in a supermax prison in Colorado, never to be seen again.

In terrorist trials over the past 15 years, federal prosecutors and judges have gained extensive experience protecting intelligence sources and methods, limiting a defendant’s ability to raise irrelevant issues and tightly controlling the courtroom. . . .