By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered,” asks Bill Murray, playing weatherman Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day,” one of the funniest films of all time.
That’s exactly what it feels like today. Not in Punxsutawney, Pa., but in Washington, D.C., where every day is Groundhog Day and Republicans, several of whom actually resemble furry little mammals, begin every day by accusing President Obama of being “soft on terror.”
After all, they point out, he wanted to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in New York City, of all places. On his watch, the FBI treated Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab like a civilian criminal and read him his Miranda rights. And, even though he’s been in office over a year, Obama has yet to utter the phrase that stirs fear in the heart of every terrorist: “Bring ’em back, dead or alive.”
What total nonsense. Even a groundhog would laugh out loud at the arguments made against holding KSM’s trial in New York. They complain it would cause traffic congestion? New York’s a perpetual traffic jam. It’ll make NYC a terrorist target? As if it’s not already. The people of New York have already suffered enough? Oh, stop whining. Yes, but they also want revenge!
As Mayor Bloomberg himself declared before he caved in to the New York real estate lobby, it’s only fitting that the trial of KSM should be held in lower Manhattan, just blocks from Ground Zero, where most New Yorkers would like to see him hang. New York’s federal courthouse, in fact, was where the trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others accused of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was held, as well as numerous terrorist trials since.
And that set the precedent for what followed. For eight years under George Bush and Dick Cheney, the policy of the U.S. government was to bring terrorist suspects to trial in federal civilian court, many of them in New York City. Since September 11, according to NYU’s Center on Law and Security, charges were thus filed against 828 persons — with an 89 percent conviction rate. They included two high-profile, top security trials: shoe bomber Richard Reid, in Boston; and al-Qaida operative Zacarias Moussaoui, in Alexandria, Va. Both of whom are now serving consecutive life sentences in Colorado’s Supermax federal prison.
By contrast, in that same period the government achieved only one conviction in a military tribunal: that of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, of which he served only six months, and is now free in Yemen.
Clearly, in terms of getting results, trying terrorist suspects in federal civilian courts was the right policy under President Bush, it’s the right policy under President Obama, and New York City’s the perfect venue. As for “Mirandizing” the so-called Underwear Bomber, that’s nothing new, either. The fact is that, before he was read his Miranda rights, Abdulmutallab was interrogated by, and provided “actionable intelligence” to, FBI agents. And, prodded by his family, he’s still talking today, telling agents who trained him and where and what else is going on in the same training camps.
So much for criticism of how the Obama administration handled the Christmas Day bomber. Rather than shut him up, they’ve turned him into one of our most valuable sources of terrorist intelligence ever. And besides, when attacking Obama for Abdulmutallab’s Miranda rights, why don’t Republicans acknowledge that the Bush administration read Richard Reid his Miranda rights: four times in two days, beginning five minutes after he’d been taken into custody! Maybe they just forgot.
Apparently they also forgot about Obama’s actions on the front lines. He has more than doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan to pursue and destroy al-Qaida’s presence there. He provided anti-terrorist funding to Yemen, long before the Underwear Bomber surfaced. And he’s more than doubled the number of drone attacks over Pakistan, which last week targeted Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Mehsud was killed in that attack.
Bottom line: Groundhog Day or not, there are things you can legitimately criticize President Obama for. Being soft on terror is not one of them. He may not talk as much or as tough as George Bush on terror, but he’s actually done more.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.