Attorney General Eric Holder, civilian trials, constitutional rights, Elliot Richardson, Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Nobel Prize speech, President Obama, Richard Nixon, rule of law, Saturday Night Massacre, Watergate
An open letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder:
President Obama, have you no principles sir? Is there nothing for which you are willing to take an unwavering stand? Nothing which you are unwilling to sacrifice on the altar of political expediency? Nothing that will deter your quest for the Holy Grail of bi-partisanship? Nothing that is done without a moistened finger in the wind gauging current public opinion? If this story from the Washington Post about the decision not to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 co-conspirators in civilian court is true, sadly the answers to all of the above questions appear to be no, nothing.
Do you remember your Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, sir? Let me refresh your memory (emphasis added):
“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”
This is one of those times, sir, one of those times when it is hard. This is one of those times when ones true character is tested. When the right thing to do and the popular thing to do are not one and the same, as history has shown us they seldom are.
Our constitutional rights and protections–in which our system of justice is anchored–and the rule of law are not, and should never be, subject to political compromise and deal-making. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments are not bargaining chips to be dealt away in the pursuit of Republican support for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Furthermore, who is prosecuted and how they are prosecuted is not the discretion of the president of the United States, and most assuredly not that of his chief of staff. That duty falls to the man whom you nominated and whom the Senate confirmed as Attorney General, Eric Holder. Once upon a time we had a Justice Department independent from political influence. That line of demarcation was blurred, if not completely erased, by the previous administration. You were elected on the promise of restoring that independence, but apparently that was only campaign rhetoric.
Attorney General Holder, you have a duty here too, sir. By virtue of the position which you hold, you are chief law enforcement official in this country. If you believe strongly that KSM and the others should be tried according to Article III, and if you want to be seen as more than an attorney-on-retainer who does the bidding of the White House, you have the obligation to tell the president to either make this decision yours and your alone, based solely on legal grounds, or resign your office.
One of your predecessors in the office of Attorney General faced a similar situation. He was ordered by the president to do something which went against his principles and was in violation of his duties as AG. Rather than be seen as a puppet of that administration, he resigned on the spot, as did his deputy when given the same order. His name was Elliot Richardson and the president was Richard Nixon, in the constitutional crisis now known as the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” of the Watergate era.
This is no less a constitutional matter, sir. Your obligation is no less than was Mr. Richardson’s.