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Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - November 13, 2009

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

Judy Woodruff does the duty tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that's, of course, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "New York Times" columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, the decision announced today by the attorney general to move the key suspects on 9/11 to New York City to be tried in civilian courts.

David, what did you make, not only of the decision, but of the attorney general's explanation to Jim in that interview?

DAVID BROOKS: I found it disturbing, because the terrorists not only get to attack the country and make a global statement that way. Now they're going to have a public trial to make more statements.

And potential future terrorists will also know that, if caught, they can have a trial, sort of an international reality TV show, to make their statements.

And the second thing that disturbed me is that, so many years after 9/11, we don't seem to have made the distinction between what happened on 9/11 and crime. In the interview with Jim, Mr. Holder repeatedly called it the crime of the century and a crime.

I think it was an act of war. And I think the trial will -- has national security consequences. And, as a result, in my opinion -- and I think it's going to be the American public's opinion -- he should have consulted Barack Obama. He should have consulted some people involved in the national security apparatus of the country, because the trial will have nationally security implications.

So, you separate it as a crime, and therefore to separate it from President Obama, to separate it from everybody else involved, concerned with the national security of the country seems to me a gigantic mistake.

Mr. Holder's wife and brother notwithstanding, they're not in charge of the national security of the country. And I think it should be intermixed with that, because what happened on 9/11 was not a crime. It was an act of war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I like David, I am surprised that he did not consult with the president.

But I think to...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're surprised?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm surprised. I really am.

I think this is a big decision, a major decision. I do dissent from David's analysis in the sense that the crime vs. war crime or act of war distinction was not really available to Holder, to Eric Holder, because of the Supreme Court decisions. The Supreme Court had ruled that the constitutional guarantees had to extended to these people who have been held.

So, that's already happened. The ball was in his lap, in his court. And I think as well he's somewhat inhibited, obviously, by the actions of interrogation and water-boarding that have gone on in the past.

I think there's enormous symbolic significance in doing it in New York. I agree it's an unpopular decision. The applause or the praise has been muted, to the point of silence, so far today from what I have been able to find out.

But I'm not sure that the decision available to him, given the court rulings, was...

DAVID BROOKS: But I think he had the option to do military tribunals, as some of the other defendants are going to have. And that would have been appropriate, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying that that's what he should have done?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm saying I think there obviously is a consideration that -- of the treatment internationally. I think that's part of the consideration of Mr. Holder. He didn't talk that way. He kept it straight and narrow with Jim, and rather limited in his answers.

But, you know, I think there are implications that go to foreign policy, to the country -- to our nation in the world, our standing in the world, to what has happened in terms of rendition in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think justice will...

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, what is terrorism? The real targets of a terrorist attack are not the people who are killed. It's the message that is sent to the country, the act of intimidation. It's the message of rallying radicals in other parts of the world. And that's what terrorism is. That's why terrorism is a unique form of warfare.

This trial will become another act of propaganda. The future trials will become other acts of propaganda. And I think we have to understand that terrorism works through propaganda, not through simply killing. And, therefore, controlling the propaganda effects of an act of terrorism seems to me part of the process we should adapt.

They should have the rights that they're afforded by the Supreme Court and by the Constitution, but that doesn't mean we need to provide them with another propaganda opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don't think justice can be done?

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