COMMENTS: KSM to go on Show Trial

Attorney General Eric Holder was called to Capitol Hill to testify before a Senate panel on his decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators for plotting the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The three networks assigned their Justice Department correspondent--Pete Williams on NBC, Bob Orr on CBS, Pierre Thomas on ABC--rather than their Congressional correspondent to the hearings. All three quoted Holder's soundbite concerning Mohammed's claimed preference to be tried for war crimes not for a civilian murder plot: "He will not select the prosecution venue, I will select it."

The justice correspondents' coverage focused on three objections to Holder's decision. NBC's Williams cited the worry that Mohammed would use the trial for his own propaganda. Holder's answer was that he could use a Guantanamo Bay tribunal just as easily. CBS' Orr suggested that "counterterrorism methods could be compromised." Without using the T-word, Orr quoted Holder as pledging that there was "ample evidence outside of harsh interrogations" to obtain a conviction. ABC's Thomas mentioned the possibility of an acquittal by jury. Holder's reply was that such a verdict was "highly unlikely."

That last objection leads to a fourth one--that Holder is not proposing impartial justice at all but a show trial with no presumption of innocence. NBC's Chuck Todd brought up that concern with Barack Obama in a separate interview. Obama referred to a future facing Mohammed "when he is convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." Todd pressed the "former Constitutional law professor" whether this was prejudging the verdict. Obama restated his "when" to an "if that is the outcome." Holder was less scrupulous about Constitutional niceties: "Failure is not an option," was how ABC's Thomas quoted him. "These are cases that have to be won." Even if the jury happened to acquit, "Mohammed could still be held as an enemy combatant," Holder promised. So, yes, this will be a show trial.


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