Posted Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010, at 11:18 AM
The Obama administration's ambitions of trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts had only stopped being a liability, really, because there was too much going on for anyone to focus on it. The Ahmed Ghailani verdict changes that, and it's not just because Ghailani was only convicted on one count. Glenn Greenwald puts it well :
[T]he most important point here is that one either believes in the American system of justice or one does not. When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn't proof that the justice system is broken; it's proof that it works . A "justice system" which guarantees convictions -- or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture -- isn't a justice system at all, by definition.
Critics of the Obama administration are confident that this isn't how people want to view these trials. They're also confident that people don't really understand the stakes. Ghailani's aquittals don't mean that he's going to walk out into the sunlight. He was in captivity, somewhere; he will go into captivity, somewhere; if he had gotten off, he would have remained in captivity, somewhere. The Obama administration's position here is one of its most politically untenable on any issue. Does anyone think the administration, and Eric Holder in particular, is ready to defend and explain all of this once Peter King -- who was hardly invisible from 2009 to 2010 -- runs the Homeland Security committee again?