Obama to Try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Military Court

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a Red Cross photo taken at Guantanamo Bay (left) and a photo (right) reportedly taken by US forces shortly after they first captured Mohammed in early 2003.Red Cross photo (left)/US Government photo (right).

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During the 2008 presidential campaign, civil libertarians hoped that Barack Obama would roll back what they saw as the worst of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Obama fell far short of their hopes, and now he’s dealt them yet another punch to the gut. On Monday afternoon, just hours after the Obama campaign texted its launch announcement to supporters, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that purported 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other suspected 9/11 plotters will be tried by Obama’s version of the Bush-era military commissions.

So on the same day he formally asked America for a second term in office, Barack Obama moved to ensure that the Bush administration’s Guantanamo-Bay-based system of two-tiered justice for horrific terrorism-related crimes will endure.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, popularly known as KSM, is not just the self-proclaimed “mastermind” of the September 11th attacks. He’s also perhaps the most prominent target of Bush-era interrogation policies. He was waterboarded multiple times and held in CIA “black sites,” where detainees were subjected to extreme temperatures, solitary confinement, extreme sleep deprivation, “stress positions,” and a form of beating known as “walling.” KSM’s trial, civilian or otherwise, is sure to be among the most followed and most controversial in history—a true “trial of the century.” And by opting for a military commission trial for KSM, Obama was putting a final stamp of approval on some of the central elements of the Bush administration’s handling of terrorism suspects.

During the press conference, Holder seemed frustrated that the administration had been forced—by congressional maneuvering, political demagoguery, and public opposition—to change its position. After all, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The Obama team originally planned to try KSM and his compatriots in federal civilian court in New York City, following a precedent that has led to the conviction and imprisonment of hundreds of terrorists. But New York’s mayor and chief of police balked, and any remaining political support for federal court trials collapsed. Now, KSM et. al. will face a military commission in Guantanamo Bay—a system that has convicted just a handful of people, most of whom received lighter sentences than are generally handed down for terrorism-related convictions in civilian courts.

Many people believe that, if he’s guilty of the crimes he’s accused of—namely, the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Americans—KSM deserves to die. But the military commissions, even under Bush, have never sentenced anyone to death. None of the military lawyers at Gitmo have ever defended a capital case through to the penalty phase. And as Holder pointed out in his press conference, it’s still an “open question” whether someone who pleads guilty in a military commission can even be executed at all. But hey—at least John McCain and Joe Lieberman are happy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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