The Obama's administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 plotters in New York City has sparked a great number of heated expressions of offense from Republicans -- and may now have landed President Obama in legal hot water.
Obama defended his decision on Wednesday by telling MSNBC's Chuck Todd, "I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." When Todd expressed surprise at the remark, Obama hastily corrected himself, insisting, "What I said was people will not be offended if that's the outcome. I'm not pre-judging it."
Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley chuckled over Obama's predicament on MSNBC's Countdown, telling substitute host Lawrence O'Donnell, "He certainly came across as the Queen of Hearts, calling for a sentence first and a verdict later."
"He knows that's a problem," Turley went on, more seriously. "The great irony is that in defending this noble decision of his to give a fair trial to these men, he then crossed the line and is likely to be cited by the feds that it's not quite so fair."
The Obama administration has been fairly cavalier so far in brushing off the possibility that any of the defendants might be found innocent. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, ""I would not have authorized the bringing of these prosecutions unless I thought that the outcome -- in the outcome we would ultimately be successful."
Last summer, however, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to a question about a possible not-guilty verdict in a non-9/11 terrorism trial by saying, "We will talk about what happens about a verdict when a verdict comes." A few weeks later, an administration representative announced that the US might continue to hold terrorism detainees who posed a "threat" indefinitely, even if they were found non-guilty.
O'Donnell went on to note that some Republicans seem to be overly eager not to offend al Qaeda in any way that could goad them to retaliate. "If Republicans really want to do whatever will be the least offensive approach ... why not just set Khalid Sheikh Mohammed free?" he asked sarcastically.
"I find that the most amazing line of rhetoric," Turley laughed. "If you really want to make al Qaeda mad, then don't be a hypocrite. ... Show that we brought one of their members to the rule of law and applied it fairly."
Turley also contrasted current Republican outrage with President John Adams' pride in having provided the legal defense for British soldiers who had killed American rioters in the Boston Massacre of 1770. "It makes you wonder, when you listen to these critics, whether we weren't a better people when we had less power but more principles," Turley concluded.
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Nov. 18, 2009.