Terrorism trials

Terrorist Faces 20 to Life: Trial a Failure

The verdict in the trial of Ahmed Ghailani means his role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa earns him 20 years to life imprisonment. But the GOP and some Democrats have won the message war: This is a failure of the Obama administration’s plans to try some terrorists in civilian court because it was the only charge of more than 200 for which he was found guilty.

What it is, really, is another example of the failure of the administration’s ability to get in front of an issue and frame it correctly. In fact, administration officials were silent.

Neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. commented publicly on the verdict, which other officials said they interpreted as a sign of quiet defeat [emphasis added]. The political climate for civilian trials will grow only worse in January once Republicans – who are widely opposed to using federal courts to prosecute Guantanamo detainees – take over the House, officials said.

Apparently, though, the administration feels the fault lies with the GOP.

Senior administration officials expressed frustration with the Republican response to the Ghailani case, saying the verdict changed nothing about the legal viability of civilian courts to handle terrorist cases. "Ghailani is an unfortunate addition to a long-running saga of politicization and outright distortion of this issue," one official said.

So sorry they feel frustrated. Would someone mind telling them that when they offer no position or framing of their own, reporters are left with the impression that there is no defense, let alone an offsetting offense.

How many folks know that not only did George Bush try terrorists in civilian courts, including the infamous “shoe bomber,” but that civilian trails have been successful during the Obama years?

Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, said the White House remains committed to using all available venues for trying terrorism suspects. And in the past year, with little controversy, the administration has tried numerous terrorism suspects, including individuals who planned attacks on Times Square and the New York subway system.

If you don’t communicate your own successes, don’t cry because the GOP won’t.

Some folks tried, of course, but listen to the stilted, bloodless defense.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the homeland security subcommittee on intelligence, noted that Ghailani is facing a sentence stiffer than all but one meted out by military commissions.

"More than 200 years of American jurisprudence and a clear track record of success should not be thrown out the window or falsely characterized for political advantage," Harman said. "The Obama administration needs to push back."

Blah, blah, blah, jurisprudence, blah, blah, blah.  Push back?  We’re waiting.  How about this reframe?

“Why does the GOP so mistrust Americans?  Our country is founded on the idea of jury trials, but the GOP doesn’t trust Americans to uphold that tradition.  Do they think average Americans are too stupid to be on a jury?  Do they think that average Americans want to coddle terrorists? Or do they want to do away with jury trials altogether?

“This is another brazen, deceitful attempt by Republicans to instill fear and divide Americans.  They want to play politics with our security.”

Ahmed Ghailani will get 20 years to life.  I think American jurors did their job, and I’m proud of them.  Why aren’t Republicans?

In a related note, The Post’s writers adopted an awkward GOP frame for the issue of torture.  Note this paragraph:

"This was a difficult case in that there were questions about Ghailani’s treatment during the previous administration" – such as the use of enhanced interrogation techniques – "that led to a key witness being excluded," {Justice Department, spokesman Matthew Miller] said.

Note the phrase between the em dashes.  That’s the Bush term for torture.  Did the reporters substitute that frame for torture, the word Miller said, or did they add the phrase to describe the “treatment” Miller alludes to?  In either case, the word is “torture,” not “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which is, among other things, vague and a phrase that was not in the language before the Bushies created it.

Kathleen Reardon is right. Obama is no great communicator. 

[L]ong diatribes with no passion, assertiveness and spontaneity in the face of GOP hostility are going to make this presidency a short, disappointing one.