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Graham, Table for One?

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March 11, 2010

Today, Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent debunked the core rationale behind Sen. Lindsay Graham’s insistence the 9/11 cases are tried in the military commissions instead of the federal criminal courts. See, Sen. Graham, who likes to tout his experience as a former military lawyer, is afraid that federal criminal courts aren’t up to the task of protecting classified information properly during the trial. He thinks that only the military commissions can do it right. But as Ackerman points out today:

…the revisions to the military commissions approved by Congress last year — with significant input from Graham himself — removed any significant difference between how classified information is handled in military and civilian venues.

So, no difference between how the military commissions and federal courts handle classified evidence. So then what’s the issue? Does Sen. Graham have absolutely no faith in our time-tested federal criminal court system? When you go solely by the numbers, there’s no contest over which system is best-equipped to handle the 9/11 cases. Ackerman continues, quoting the ACLU’s Chris Anders:

“Who is going to do a better job with applying the substantively difficult law protecting classified information,” Anders said, “federal judges who have regularly applied it in many cases, or military commission judges who have never even tried a complex criminal case, much less the most important international terrorism case in history?”

Even if Sen. Graham did have a good reason—and from what we can tell, there is no good reason to send these cases back to the military commissions—how does it benefit the White House? Yesterday, Laura blogged about the wheeling and dealing Sen. Graham’s reportedly doing with the administration. The deal: if the White House overturns Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the 9/11 cases in federal criminal court and sends the cases back to the military commissions, Sen. Graham will bring along the congressional Republican muscle President Obama needs to close Gitmo.

But did anyone tell the other GOP senators about Sen. Graham’s plan? Because they don’t appear to be clued in. His BFFs, Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain, haven’t made a peep in support of this plan. The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent called GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner, and they’re not backing Sen. Graham either. And Pete Hoekstra, the lead Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, wrote an entire op-ed today attacking Graham’s plan from the right. Graham seems to bring no one to the table but himself.

So Sen. Graham lacks both a reason to move the 9/11 cases back to the military commissions, and the mojo to change the president’s mind. So…why are we having this debate?