Obama Administration gets it right on terror trials, finally

Well, it’s been another week in which international stories and political stories have sort of eclipsed Lawpsyc stories, but there was one big story on Monday that fell into all three categories:  You may remember that the Obama Administration, going all the way back to the 2008 presidential campaign, has wanted to try terror suspects in federal courts here in the U.S. instead of in military tribunals at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Most notably, the Administration had announced early last year that the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed, would be tried in federal court in New York City.

You may also remember a piece I wrote last year in which I explained what a bad idea that was and why the Administration needed to rethink it (see my piece entitled “Lawpsyc Low-Down on Terror Trials in New York City,” dated 2/2/10, and my follow-up piece entitled “Pro-active Counter-Terrorism Psychology,” dated 5/2/10).  Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened, and after rethinking it, the Administration announced on Monday a complete reversal of its terror-trial policy.  Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed and other terror suspects will indeed be tried in Guantanamo Bay, right where they should have been tried all along.  So, as one who gives credit where credit is due, I’m happy to report that the Obama Administration has gotten it right on terror trials, finally.

This illustrates something interesting about the psychology of leadership in that people tend to assume that leadership is going to be easier than it turns out to be.  President Obama told the nation during the 2008 campaign that the detention center in Guantanamo Bay where terror suspects are housed would be closed long before now.  Of course it’s still open, as it should be, so again, Obama has gotten it right, and better late than never.  It just illustrates how things that were easy for candidate Obama to say have turned out to be more difficult for President Obama to actually do.  That’s how it often goes with leadership — when you’re actually the decision-maker, decisions tend to seem more complex than they did when you were just the previous decision-maker’s critic.

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