In an interview with NBC News yesterday, President Barack Obama declared that accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be convicted and executed in the upcoming New York City trial.
Obama appeared to catch his sudden lapse into candor and quickly backtracked, declaring “I’m not going to be in that courtroom” and saying he didn’t mean to prejudge the case.
But the comments mirrored a controversial stage in Charles Manson’s 1970 “Helter Skelter” trial, in which then-President Richard Nixon declared Manson guilty before quickly retracting his comments. The comments were intended to be kept from the already sequestered jury, but Manson stood up in the middle of the trial and held up a copy of the LA Times with the headline “Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares,” bringing into question whether the president had inappropriately influenced the jury.
President Obama’s comments may be even more problematic, as they came before the jury has even been selected. It seems that during jury selection President Obama’s comments will almost certainly have to be a topic of questioning, and the issue of whether the president has prejudiced the jury pool against Mohammed will be a serious concern.
Officials produced a signed confession from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2007 in which he admitted to a myriad of attacks, including the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. The fact that these confessions came after he was waterboarded a record 183 times in 2003 will no doubt raise questions, and make for a potentially explosive trial.