So President Obama will retreat on a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Good call. But also a reminder of how expensive his original bad decision has been. The past 15 months could have been used to write a statute governing the treatment of captured enemy illegal combatants. The administration’s reckless determination to try international terrorists as domestic criminals wasted that time. So we are left in 2010 in the same lawless limbo as in 2001. This was admittedly unfinished business left over from the Bush years. Granted. But it remains unfinished in the Obama years out of legalism and hubris.
Military tribunals are not a perfect answer. But as the president has belatedly discovered — as he could have discovered a lot earlier if his priority had been problem-solving rather than scoring points off his predecessor — they were the best available answer.