NPR's Temple-Raston Carries Water For Holder on Terror Suspect Trials

April 5th, 2011 6:55 PM

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston touted Attorney General Eric Holder's reluctance to give detainees at Guantanamo Bay military trials during a segment on Monday's All Things Considered. Temple-Raston and host Michele Norris only featured sound bites from the Justice Department head, omitting clips from supporters of the military tribunals.

Norris began by noting the Obama administration's "major reversal" in their decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 suspects in military court. After playing a clip from Attorney General Holder's recent press conference, where he announced the move, the host turned to the correspondent and recounted how " in late 2009...Holder announced that these five conspirators will be tried in New York City in a civilian trial. So today's decision officially reverses that."

Temple-Raston, who conducted a sting operation against U.S. border agents earlier in 2011 by wearing a headscarf and posing as Muslim woman, mainly acted as stenographer for the attorney general, though she did acknowledge the mismanagement of the rollout for the civilian trials plan:

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, this was a decision the attorney general didn't want to make. I mean, when you talk to Justice Department officials privately, they tell you they thought the civilian trials for the 9/11 suspects were not only possible, but actually preferable. And then, back in November 2009, when Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the others would be tried in New York, the announcement was just badly handled, and the Justice Department didn't get local officials in New York on board first. So, just days after the decision, there was a ton of local opposition. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars just for trial security, and, frankly, that was the beginning of the end for trying the 9/11 suspects in a federal court.

The NPR correspondent continued toeing Holder's line when Norris asked about the vigorous reaction to the proposal to have civilian trials in New York City:

file photo of NPR's headquarters in Washington, DC | NewsBusters.orgNORRIS: This reaction in New York that ultimately forced the attorney general to switch venues, how strong was that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it was strong, but that was only part of it. He blamed Congress for tying his- Attorney General Holder blamed Congress for tying his hands. Basically, what happened is Congress imposed all these restrictions that made it basically impossible to bring any detainees to the U.S. for trial, and they blocked funding from moving the prisoners to the U.S. They wouldn't allow the Justice Department to spend money on prisons that might house detainees in the U.S., and it seemed like Attorney General Holder was really angry about that. We have tape of what he said.

HOLDER: Decisions about who, where, and how to prosecute have always been and must remain the responsibility of the executive branch. Members of Congress simply do not have access to the evidence and other information necessary to make prosecution judgments.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You know, and then the attorney general said the administration would continue to try to repeal those restrictions and bring other detainees here for civilian trial in the future. But the way the Justice Department sees it, Congress essentially told them who they can or can't prosecute, and that's what's upset the attorney general.

NORRIS: And you could hear that in his voice. Dina, help us understand something: what will a military trial actually mean for these men who are linked to the 9/11 attacks?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the feeling had been that since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks, that it would be fairly straightforward. But Holder mentioned in the press conference that it might not be so simple. He said it's an open question whether a military tribunal would give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or the other four men the death penalty if they plead guilty. That's because, you know, the statute for the military commissions hasn't been tested. What we do know, if someone is convicted, they might get the death penalty, but we don't know if they just plead guilty whether they would. That's still untested.

Temple-Raston actually co-wrote a book with ACLU executive director Anthony Romero in 2007 which hyped the "dangerous erosion of the Bill of Right in the age of terror." An article in Monday's New York Times noted that Romero condemned the Obama administration's decision on Guantanamo detainees: "The attorney general's flip-flop is devastating for the rule of law." The NPR reporter must now find herself in interesting position, given how her one-time collaborator is publicly berating the man she carried water for on the air.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.