A new book reveals that President Obama deferred a major national security decision to his controversial attorney general, Eric Holder. Instead of deciding himself whether 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be tried by a military tribunal or in a federal court, Obama pushed the decision off to Holder.
At a White House celebration, Holder "wasn't going to waste a rare moment along with the president," according to an account from the book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency by Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman. "He had come with an agenda, and told the president that he was thinking about prosecuting KSM in federal court. Obama had simply acknowledged that he would defer to Holder on the matter: 'It’s your call, you’re the attorney general.'"
Yet, almost half a year later, according to the same book, President Obama reportedly told an aide that he didn't realize his deference on this issue to Holder included KSM.
"Once, the president had peevishly asked an aide whose idea it was to prosecute the 9/11 defendants in civilian courts in the first place," Klaidman writes. "The adviser sheepishly told him it was his, reminding Obama that in his Archives speech he’d insisted that the presumption would be in favor of Article III courts unless military commissions were the only viable option. I didn’t know that meant KSM, Obama answered."
The confusion between President Obama and Holder was perhaps apparent in the decision to try KSM in a New York City courthouse. Holder's announcement was immediately controversial. And after sustained of public outcry (including from Democratic officials in New York and Mayor Michael Bloomberg), the decision was reversed.
Last month, the Obama Justice Department announced the decision to try KSM in a military court in Guantanamo, where he was planning to be tried by the Bush administration.
On popular national security decisions--e.g., the killing of Osama bin Laden by SEAL Team Six in Abbottabad, Pakistan--President Obama has been keen on taking credit for the successes and to show that he's been in the middle of the most important decision.
This account shows a markedly different, more removed side of Obama's approach to the war on terror.