The Washington Post

UPDATE: Romney flip-flop rebuttal on trying terrorists on U.S. soil

The Romney folks didn’t like my post calling former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) a flip-flopper on trying terrorists on U.S. soil. The piece contrasted his aversion to trying Sept. 11 conspirators on U.S. soil with his desire to bring the “Lockerbie Bomber” to justice in American courts. In an email, Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for the Romney campaign wrote,  “[T]he premise is in error.”

The bottom line for Gov. Romney is that he wants to see justice done, preferably by the United States.  Gov. Romney recognizes that, under our current laws and military authorities, a pre-9/11 terrorist like Megrahi who is not associated with Al Qaeda cannot be detained at Guantanamo or tried by our military commissions.  The only option available to ensure justice is done is to try him in our civilian court system.  Should the law change and allow other forums to be used, Gov. Romney would explore those options as well.

Ok, Saul raises a good point about the necessary distinctions between pre- and post-9/11 terrorists. And she is right that Guantanamo Bay is not an option for Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the man who blew PanAm Flight 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. But my problem with Romney remains.

“I don’t want them on our soil,” Romney said at a Republican debate in South Carolina in 2007. “I want themon Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil.” He slammed President Obama as “naive” for wanting to try 9/11 terrorists held at Guantanamo, including mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, in federal courts. Yet, Romney is sanguine about opening American courts to a Libyan terrorist? That would mean he is admitting that federal courts are up to the job of trying terrorists and handling whatever safety concerns come with that.

I never had a problem with Obama’s move to try 9/11 conspirators on U.S. soil. And I never bought any of the arguments against it. The reason is pretty simple. Whether they took part in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or blew a plane out of the sky on Dec. 21, 1988, the evil men who took part in both attacks have one thing in common: they killed people. If U.S. courts are good for the “Lockerbie Bomber” then they should be equally fine for 9/11 conspirators.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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