Why so defensive, Mr. President?

It’s been my experience that, generally speaking, the truer the criticism of a public official, the more defensive the public official becomes when the criticism is raised.

It’s a natural human reaction. When someone or something threatens to pierce the protective shield we’ve built around ourselves, we go into defense mode. It’s just more noticeable in public officials because of the spotlight they’re under. Famous cases include Richard Nixon ("People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.") and Bill Clinton ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman …").

I thought of such things this morning when I read what President Barack Obama said in defense of the decision to try professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian rather than military court. Here’s part of what The Associated Press reported:

The president, in a series of TV interviews during his trip to Asia, said those offended by the legal rights accorded Mohammed by virtue of his facing a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won’t find it “offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.”

I’m a little nervous about the degree of defensiveness with which the president appears to be reacting. As I said above, my instincts as a reporter tell me that when criticism causes a public official to overreact, it’s probably because the criticism cuts closer to the truth than the public official wants to admit.

Is the president nervous that the trial won’t go well? I don’t know that. What I do know is that I expect a little more restraint from my president. As the nation’s top elected official and a lawyer, he should know better than to publicly predict the outcome of any trial, let alone predict that a trial will end with the death penalty. Doing so doesn’t exactly support the point that I presume he’s attempting to make by trying Mohammed in civilian court — the point that in America, unlike in much of the Muslim world, we have a fair and impartial justice system. I don’t have any sympathy for Mohammed, but when the president declares him a dead man walking before he even goes to trial, it doesn’t exactly uphold the values that we claim our justice system stands for.

20 thoughts on “Why so defensive, Mr. President?

  1. Pray for the poor people that get picked as jurors. I am sure their faces and info will be plastered on all radical jihad websites. They will be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives and their families too. Obama made a completely asinine decision. I have lost what little hope I had for him.

  2. to naff,
    Ok bubba, what is YOUR proof it was a good decision? I bet I could fill the Corn Palace with local patriots that agree with me. You would have trouble filling a jury box. Seth, how about a DR poll? Did the President make the right call on a trial? Or, Would you like to serve on the jury?
    ;-)

  3. I suspect any “poll” would show about a 50-50 split on whether it’s a good decision, and as to sitting on the jury, almost nobody wants to sit on any jury – even for a 1-day trial, so I don’t think that would prove anything.

    Almost everyone has an opinion about this trial. But some of the “facts” are not yet known: Whether there will be a jury trial or a judge trial? Will there really be a full trial? After all, the primary defendant has confessed and has stated he wants to be put to death so he can be a “martyr.”

    Letting him be the martyr he wants to be serves his interests and his cause. Let’s not give him that. Let’s demonstrate to the world that we’ll give him full and fair justice. And then let’s mete out the punishment he deserves.

    People — patriots, too, I might add, can differ on whether this is a good idea to have a trial in NYC.

    Trials, especially this one, tend to be expensive and very trying for those involved, particularly victims.

    If the trial results in justice (what ALL patriotic Americans want), and the world sees it as just and fair, then that will have a huge impact on world public opinion.

    Certainly no patriotic American would want this to turn into a propaganda platform to hurt us, but that can be managed and justice served.

    I’m certainly not looking for the assignment, but I would be willing to serve on this jury.

    I know it’s easy for me to say, since I’m not in the NY southern district jury pool, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents worth.

    This country is too strong, but we still must be careful about questioning the motives based only a political positions.

    We are, after all, Americans.

  4. thank you MFT a well thought out written piece- better than those negative nag nobbs (where have we heard that one before?)?

  5. Yes, MFT, agree with many of your statements; however, I would sit on a jury. I would find it interesting, but I could not be impartial on this one. I also would not want my name or picture published, as that could cause even an accidental death to be questioned.
    I also agree that the death penalty would just be giving him martyrdom. Life in a dark, windowless cell works for me.
    There is no way that the world is going to see anything we do as fair and impartial. Those that hate, will not forgive. (Plain and simple)
    My hope is that it is a trial by Judge, and then (once again) no one will call it fair. There is no easy solution, and that is the reason for the long delay in bringing them to trial in the first place. (my opinion)
    Now Pres. Obama’s administration will have to prove it was the correct decision.

  6. I feel ill when I here Americans talk of the rights of terrorists. As a former soldier, I fully apreciate the need for the fair treatment of all soldiers representing their country. It is no fault of a soldier that is defending the lawful orders of his or her respective country.
    The Geneva convention came out of the necesity to protect these soldiers for being held accountable for the decisions of their leaders. To extend those rights to people fighting for no country, that are representatives of no people, that do not follow the very ‘rules’ they hide behind is naieve and insaine on the part of all Americans that want to extend American priveledges to people with no remorse, no sense of decency or respect for others. If a terrorist had any American, threatened anyone of this country, or America itself, I would hope my president or other in charge would do ANYTHING to save, protect and defend this country. I gaurantee the terrorist would do horrible things to you, your children, your parents, your grandparents even though they do not have a dog in the fight. Please, wake up and get off your liberal butt and figure out that you are helping the enemy with your sympathy. They are relying on our sense of compassion and kindness to protect their agenda. Lastly, NPR went on and on about Muslims that are afraid of discrimination and retribution for the acts of other Muslims. I tire of hearing that terrorists are just bad Muslims. Prove it. Turn them in or are you more afraid of going against another Muslim than you are of God. Anyone that knows and allows acts of terrorism to happen by their inaction is just as guilty as the terrorist themselves.

  7. http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2009/11/23/tomo

    And, Soldier Boy, KSM is on trial here, not his detainers. But can we infer from your comments that torture’s OK as long as *we* are the ones doing it, and as long as it’s for a good cause? What rogue state couldn’t claim as much?

    And, Seth: do I read you correctly that you’re criticizing Obama from a “left” position of civil libertarianism? That you’re concerned now that KSM’s trial won’t be fair and impartial? If TDR’s going to be chosing sides from which to criticize Obama, would it be reasonable of me to suggest they pick just one at a time?

  8. The only position I’m arguing from is a belief that our court system ought to be fair, no matter who is accused or what the crime is. If that’s a “left” position, that’s news to me. I see it as a bedrock principle. I think we should be proud that in America, everybody gets a fair trial — even hated terrorists. We should believe that our system will work and justice will prevail, without the need for our president to make comments that could influence the process. Isn’t that part of what makes our government different, and better, than many of the Islamic governments that harbor terrorists?

  9. Thanks, Seth. Then you think the president erred only when he suggested that the verdict was a slam dunk–but you think trying terrorists is the *right* call?
    I just ask for the sake of clarity. As I am sure you are aware, the “show trial” meme is now being pushed hard by many sources who, until very recently, wanted no trial at all.

  10. Webmaster:
    What you talkin ’bout, Willis?
    I’m guessing the source of the Favorite Quote in the top right would be Garry Wills.

  11. Whether KSM is tried in US District Court or by a military commission, there will no other place in this world that he will obtain a fairer trial.

    That President Obama said what he said was clearly a pushback to some of the public rhetoric by many, including many in powerful positions in the conservative spectrum and in the media.

    That Mohammed has confessed, some would characterize as bragged about his culpability pretty much seals his fate, but I do appreciate Seth Tupper’s principle.

    While this – and other factors at play – may seem to conflict with the idea of a fair trial and may be a healthy debate of various opinions, one thing is for sure: Despite an unlikely acquittal, KSM will never, ever, be a free man.

    And that is something every member of his defense team (civilian or JAG) and the previous administration knows.

  12. My only opinion is about the president’s comments. I don’t know enough to have an opinion on whether Mohammed should be tried in civilian or military court.

    Nice catch on the “Willis” typo. I just replaced a different quote with that one recently, and I must have slipped when I typed the name. It’s now been corrected.

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