Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lindsey Graham lets the mask slip

Lindsey Graham has emerged as the most formidable roadblock to the Administration's effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Christmas bomber Umar Abdulmutallab and other accused terrorists in civilian court.

According to Jane Mayer, Graham conditioned his offer to help the Administration close Guantanamo on the Adminstration dropping its plans for civilian trials. 

Graham, a former military lawyer and a main author of the Military Commissions Act of 2009, which added some protections for defendants to the kangaroo courts established by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has insisted early and often that trying al Qaeda operatives in civilian courts is a national security risk, primarily on grounds that the prosecution in a criminal trial must disclose to the defense the identity of known co-conspirators (of this risk Mayer reports, after detailing Holder's consultation with top Pentagon lawyers and intelligence officials "A lawyer familiar with the discussion told me, “Suffice it to say, if there was serious concern about revelation of sources and methods by the intelligence community you would have heard a lot of howling).”

Graham has not been demagoging national security issues with the vehemence and transparent ignorance of many of his Republican colleagues. He credits the Administration for its drone attacks and other aggressive action against al Qaeda and the Taliban.  Perhaps he is sincere in his vehement advocacy for military commissions.

Nonetheless, in remarks to the AP's Matt Apuzzo, Graham's mask as guardian of national security seemed to slip a bit. Note the grounds on which he criticized Holder's handling of terrorist suspects in custody (my emphasis):

"They're trying to be tougher than Bush overseas but different from Bush at home," Graham said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense. They really got the right model for Pakistan and Yemen, but they're really tone deaf at home....What resonates with people is what happens in Detroit, more than what happens on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border."
Oh, it resonates all right.  Marcy Wheeler highlights just how much fearmongering about civilian trials and foregoing torture resonates (Wheeler's emphasis):
Republicans discovered the renewed power of terrorism in last month’s special Senate election in Massachusetts. Neil Newhouse, the pollster for the Republican victor, Scott Brown, said voters responded to the way Mr. Brown framed the issue, supporting him 63 percent to 26 percent when told he favored charging suspected terrorists as enemy combatants in a military tribunal while his Democratic opponent would give them constitutional rights and a civilian trial.
“This moved voters more than the health care issue did,” Mr. Newhouse said. “The terrorism stuff resonated, and it wasn’t just from the advertising we did.”

 So, Mr. Graham: is the Administration wrong on substance? Or just "tone-deaf"?

UPDATE: in today's New York Times (2/15/10), Graham once again seems to emphasize perception rather than substance in explaining his opposition to civilian trials. He also is clearly conscious ofwielding enormous political power through his opposition:
“Of all the issues they have dealt with, this is the one that could bring the presidency down,” Mr. Graham said he told each, adding: “Most Americans don’t look at these folks as common criminals who were trying to rob the liquor store. They look at them as dangerous terrorists.”

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