When Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the United States would not abandon the rule of law as to several key Guantanamo detainees, he undoubtedly did so knowing that some observers would be, shall we say, skeptical.
Some critics of the administration's plan to prosecute international terror suspects in domestic courts are "obsessed with the prospect of allowing these terrorists to have an opportunity to mount a so-called 'circus trial,'" writes Dahlia Lithwick. "They must be awfully afraid of the other side's message to believe that allowing the defendants to utter even a word in their own defense is to risk recruiting millions of new adherents worldwide."
Perhaps the most colorable argument for fear of prosecuting terrorists in domestic courts is, as Sen. John Cornyn claims, that an acquittal may result. But, explains the Center for American Progress's Ken Gude, "Under the .000001 chance that [suspected terrorists] are acquitted, [the executive branch] will have ... authority to detain them," under the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Adam Serwer expands on the executive branch's authority, observing that, in the off-chance that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (pictured) is acquitted, "The attorney general could detain him as an 'international terrorist' indefinitely, in renewable six-month periods, based on a provision in the PATRIOT Act."
Conservatives are not uniformly opposed to prosecuting terror suspects in federal courts, however. In a letter endorsing transferring Guantanamo detainees to a federal prison in Thomson, Ill., former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, warned of "scaremongering" around the issue of detaining terror suspects domestically. In harmony with the Attorney General's view, Barr, Keene and Norquist concluded, "Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases."