Obama, Holder split on terror trials

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Attorney General Eric Holder’s effort to give terrorists civilian trials was thrown under the 2012 campaign bus last week, when his boss, President Barack Obama, ditched the attorney general’s efforts to win control of jihadis who are captured overseas and also released a terrorist who murdered four captured Americans soldiers.

Holder’s failure, and Obama’s political priorities, were further highlighted on Saturday, when Iraqi officials announced that the terrorist, Ali Musa Daqduq, would only face a minor charge of illegal entry into Iraq, according to an Associated Press report.

During a Daqduq-masterminded 2007 attack on a joint U.S.-Iraqi building in Karbala, attackers wore U.S uniforms and killed a U.S. soldier prior to kidnapping four more U.S. soldiers. Other U.S. forces chased the fleeing attackers, who abandoned their vehicles after murdering the four American captives.

“The Daqduq case shows exactly why Congress is right to challenge the Obama administration’s misguided terrorism policies and to question Holder’s ability to put the nation’s security before [his legal] ideology,” said John Yoo, a law professor whose work for George. W Bush was bitterly criticized by progressive and Islamist advocates.

In June, Holder told an audience of progressives that “our most effective terror-fighting weapon [is] our Article III [civil] court system.” (RELATED: National security experts blast attorney general’s claim that lawyers are America’s ‘most effective terror-fighting weapon’)

Despite the public’s opposition to the granting of civilian courtroom rights to foreign terrorists, and to terror trials that could curb courtroom rights now enjoyed by civilians, Holder called on his professional and political allies to “ensure that the rule of law … be recognized as the foundation for our continued security.”

“Without civilian law enforcement and Article III courts, our ability … to punish those who have — and who intend to — harm Americans would be seriously damaged,” Holder said.

But since June, Holder’s clout has been by damaged by the Fast & Furious scandal, in which his deputies allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled to Mexican drug gangs. Sixty House Republicans have called for his resignation, while few Democrats have vigorously defended him.

Also, Obama’s poll numbers continue to slide, forcing him to ditch political goals that weaken his re-election chances.

The release of Daqduq from a U.S-controlled jail to the Iraqis showed that the administration did not want to take the political risk of trying the terrorist in civilian or military courts, David Rifkin, a D.C. lawyer who has closely tracked the Daqduq case, told The Daily Caller.

Obama and Holder have repeatedly denounced Guantanamo and its military tribunals since 2008. Any decision to send Daqduq to Guantanamo and its military tribunals would have damaged progressives’ critical support for the 2012 campaign, Rivkin said.

Similarly, Rivkin continued, administration officials did not want to threaten their 2012 outreach to swing-voting centrists by taking the unpopular action of sending terrorists, including Daduq, into civilian courts, which are the only alternative to the Guantanamo process.

Because of these political calculations, Rivkin added, “they wanted this guy to stay in Iraq. … They did not want him to bring him to justice.”

By releasing Daqduq instead of trying him, “the Obama administration chose its campaign promises [to retreat from Iraq] over bringing to justice a terrorist leader responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers,” said Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Obama’s near-complete withdrawal from Iraq has left the nation’s government alone to face intense diplomatic and terror pressure from neighboring Iran, which has used various terrorists — including Daqduq — to wage a proxy war against U.S. forces and Iraqi politicians since 2003.

White House spokesman Jay Carney indirectly acknowledged this pressure on Dec. 16, when he said that the White House was “not really [confident], to be honest with you” that Daqduq would be properly punished for his multiple crimes.

That statement came shortly after Carney said the administration released Daqduq to the Iraqi government “because we felt that was the fastest possible way to bring him to justice.”

“We take this case extremely seriously, and for that reason have sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes,” he said, adding that “we have worked this at the highest levels of the U.S. and Iraqi governments.”

“At the highest level” is an euphemism for the president.

Holder’s legal ambitions were also damaged when his boss abandoned a veto threat and instead promised to sign the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

The law curbs the DOJ’s role in handling jihadis captured overseas.

Captured jihadis are to be held by military lawyers unless the president directs the transfer of a prisoner. The bill also allows indefinite detention of al-Qaida terrorists and their allies, ensuring their likely imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, despite Obama’s promise to close down the tropical detention center.

The failure of the administration’s legal ambitions was underlined by the silence of the legal advocacy groups that waged a front-page campaign from 2003 to 2008 to allow foreign gunmen to be treated as U.S. citizens in U.S. courts.

Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comments on the Daqduq case.

Throughout George W. Bush’s term in office, the groups had argued that jihadis should be judged in U.S. courts to ensure that captured U.S. troops would get fair treatment.

“This is classic Sherlock Holmes ‘the-dog-didn’t-bark’ evidence” of cooperation between the progressive groups and the administration, Rivkin said. The groups “are always bitching about [legal] impunity, and how impunity encourages aberrant behavior and weakens deterrence,” he said. “So where is their outrage? Why are they not criticizing a war criminal going free?”

If U.S. troops had committed war crimes and were let go, Rivkin told TheDC, “wouldn’t every newspaper in the country be horrified and slamming the administration? How is it better to let an enemy war criminal go [free] to be hailed and praised?”

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