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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Emotional legitimacy

In deciding how to treat and try terrorists, Attorney General Eric Holder insisted on insulating his department from political considerations but was forced to retreat because of public outcry. What leadership lessons should he draw upon in trying to balance the sometimes-conflicting demands of legal legitimacy and political legitimacy?

Attorney General Eric Holder's initial attempts to try the terrorists responsible for the most tragic memory in recent American history have certainly struck a political chord in Washington. Despite the politics, I suspect that the true nature of the public outcry that forced him to retreat was, at its core, more of an emotional response than anything else. For many New Yorkers still struggling to process the impact of 9/11, trying the criminals responsible for their pain in their own city no doubt conjures a sense of repulsion that far outweighs the political implications of such an act. With this comes very little consideration of Holder's legal and political obligations as a leader.

Juggling the impasse between legal and political pressures may be one of the more complicated issues a leader comes up against in his career. Nonetheless, his effort is irrelevant if he does not accurately identify the true source of those pressures. In the case of the 9/11 trial, a deeply personal pain has been unnecessarily politicized.

Leaders must realize that what is presented as political is, quite frequently, complicated by the emotions that simmer -- or in this case, boil -- beneath the responses to their decisions. It is essential that leaders must aim for "emotional legitimacy" just as fervently as they aim for legal and political legitimacy.-- Neeta Sonalkar

Follow your heart

From the highest office to the lowest ranks of management, leaders will always face the constant pull of expectations and demands from those above, below, inside, and out. For Attorney General Holder who encounters the tugging and heaving from the multiple sides of political and legal legitimacy, I advocate drawing from a leadership lesson that can be summarized in three simple words: follow your heart.

At this point, there are many paths Attorney General Holder can take. He could embrace Machiavelli's advice that it is more important to be feared than it is to be loved. He could follow contrarian principles and find a hill to die on. He could dive into game theory, educate the public on the logic of his decisions, or even hang around the restroom as Chris Matthews suggests in his book Hardball. Wherever he decides to go from the path he finds himself in, it will still ultimately be a choice that is up to him.

With so many expectations for what a leader should do in this situation, Attorney General Holder is left with an important question only he can answer: "Who are you as a leader?" Mr. Holder has achieved a position where he has the power to make socially and politically significant decisions. He has not been asked to simply follow or bend his path with every bit of tension. As a leader, he must remember his role, do his best to fulfill this role, and use his heart to guide him through the process. The scales of a strong democratic society will figure out how to balance such actions afterward.--Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  February 16, 2010; 2:30 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Failing its own test | Next: Politics IS the 'right thing'


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It's nice to know there are some young people who still have hope. We need it. With the way this country is going, all I can say is God help us all.

Posted by: Aviator5 | February 17, 2010 4:19 PM
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The only thing these incredibly shallow "analyses" demonstrate is the ability of the "students" to regurgitate the instructor's talking points. A frightening comment on the inability of far too many to develop an independent point-of-view, based on fully-developed (or at least considered), philosophical/political constructs. This column is predominantly an indictment of the program involved.

Posted by: UncomfortableTruths | February 17, 2010 7:33 AM
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Go America! The CIA just caught a Taliban Leader. Justice will be served soon.

Posted by: dogbear75 | February 16, 2010 8:26 PM
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The game of politics is played on legalistic rules. The best players find ways to bend, maneuver, manipulate and use the law to their advantage. In the case of Neeta and Jimmy, I suppose emotions can also influence political decisions. But HELLO-- This is America! This is not PMS time in the middle of South America. Follow your heart!? and "emotional responses" from the public... when hasn't the public been emotional and when have emotions been stable?

I don't buy either one of these analyses. Good leaders get in the game, weigh the scales, determine the impacts on the future and make a choice. Popular or unpopular- that's what you signed up to do.

Take a Midol

Posted by: rocksolid | February 16, 2010 6:04 PM
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It's ironic that this post, a commentary on the emotions inherent in the law, has incited such emotional, impassioned responses in the commentary section.

Do you all hear that sound?? No? Well that was Neeta's point going completely over your head. Take a deep breath and actually read the article. Or else you all will be fodder for the very argument Neeta is trying to make.

Posted by: Thunderkats09 | February 16, 2010 1:46 PM
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There are no rules for trying terrorists and pirates. We can shoot them or hang them - after we get all information they have in whatever way suits us!! The rules are for those in uniform representing an army of a country.

Holder is part of the triumvirate from Chicago - a thug ala Obama and Emmanuel. The three have done more damage to our country than most people could do in a life time. They do not deserve their offices and will be gone soon, I hope. I wonder what "religion" Holder has. We know the other's religion or lack thereof.

May God take care of us.

Posted by: annnort | February 16, 2010 12:31 PM
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Even many Obama supporters, including me, were dismayed at the thought of Holder as AG. Marc Rich: that is what we know about Holder's deeply held principles.

Holder's odd decisions about the terrorist trials--announcements out of the blue, civil trials, NYC--what was he thinking? Instead of a champion of principles he looks like a bumbler. And backtracking will make the US look as unprincipled as during GWB's time, which is saying something.

Posted by: Hunter | February 16, 2010 11:34 AM
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Why would Holder and Obama drop the charges against the New Black Panthers?

Posted by: fury60 | February 16, 2010 11:26 AM
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A trial of these murdering scum in Federal District Court in Manhattan would have created a media and political circus, with Eric Holder presiding (modestly, I'm sure) as ringmaster. The man simply did not foresee how inappropriate and obnoxious that spectacle would be to most Americans who really do remember 9/11. It doesn't matter whether you call it politics or emotion, or the kind of trouble ideology and egotism can get you into.

Posted by: Roytex | February 16, 2010 11:08 AM
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Atten: Editor.
Arren: Editor. Re: Your column on Eric Holder.
Mr. Holder has taken a solemn oath to "Uphold and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies. foreign and domestic." Mr. Holder has done none of these things. God is keeping score, Mr, Holder.

re: Your column on Eric Holder

Posted by: Cyrano | February 16, 2010 10:56 AM
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Atten: Editor, Washington Post.
Re: Your column of 02-16-"010, discussing Eric Holder.
Mr.Holder is not an Attorney General, but a politician, who is folllowing the directions of his master, in the White House. If he were to do his job, he would be prosecuting those Government Officials who authorized and committed the torturing of prisoners, in the Government Custody. Violations of the U.S. Constitution. Cyrano is deeply
disappointed. The curse of this country is that we are ruled by people who value political positions, more than the obligations of their Constitutional Oath. God save us from their Ilk.

Posted by: Cyrano | February 16, 2010 10:47 AM
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Here is the trial that we need to have, in the Hague:

Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques. Prosecutors have argued that a criminal investigation into torture undertaken with the direction of the Bush White House would raise complex legal issues, and proof would be difficult. But what about cases in which an instigator openly and notoriously brags about his role in torture? Cheney told Jonathan Karl that he used his position within the National Security Council to advocate for the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques. Former CIA agent John Kiriakou and others have confirmed that when waterboarding was administered, it was only after receiving NSC clearance. Hence, Cheney was not speaking hypothetically but admitting his involvement in the process that led to decisions to waterboard in at least three cases.

Posted by: arsubscriberfor30years | February 16, 2010 10:37 AM
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Fools only know in the end....

This is another wrightist fool with another teachable moment on (lack of) wisdom, vision and leadership for America by O'Bama's chosen man and himself.

Posted by: Accuracy | February 16, 2010 10:34 AM
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President Obama does owe President Bush a public apology.

Nuff Said...Dennis



The whole country owes GWB an apology.

There is no question, GWB loves his country, its traditions, and its people. This sentiment is completely lacking in obama, his wife, and all their handlers.

For all his faults (primarily, spending like a democrat), GWB had one goal - to keep his country safe - and he worked tirelessly, in the face of the most disgusting, relentless, and unjustified assault by the press, education, entertainment, and labor ever perpetrated on an American president, to ensure terrorists did not attack American again during his presidency. With GWB it was country, honor, sacrifice.

Not so obama. It is clear from day one, it is all about obama. He cares nothing for this country's laws, citizens, or history. It has become a pathetic national joke to count the number of times obama says, 'I' and 'me' in his speeches.

All for all his braggadocio, obama is now finding GWB was right in most of his policies on terrorism. obama now wants to continue most of GWB's terrorist programs, all the while continuing to attack the Bush administration for the very activities he is now adopting.

And the bush-haters refuse to admit what is all too painfully clear - GWB is a great American, a strong and effective president, and a compassionate, caring, moral leader, while obama is none of these things.

Posted by: 2xy4k9 | February 16, 2010 10:25 AM
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>>>Leaders must realize that what is presented as political is, quite frequently, complicated by the emotions

Duh. What else is politics, but emotion ?

Posted by: JS11 | February 16, 2010 10:18 AM
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Holder's clumsy, ham-handed attempt to single-handedly change policy and gain federal control over military procedures was ill-timed and pathetically executed!
He never even checked with the NY governor and NYC mayor!
He overstepped his authority and is out on a limb!
We'll see if obama has the cajones to cut him off!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | February 16, 2010 10:14 AM
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This really isn't complicated. Appealing as it may have been to distance ourselves from Guantanamo and show the world American justice at work, trying these people in civilian courts would have made a mockery of the system. The defendants aren't U.S. citizens, they committed an act of war, and can anyone explain what a "jury of their peers" would look like?

Posted by: shoddymill | February 16, 2010 9:40 AM
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I'm a so-called "Blue-Dog Democrat".

President Obama and his supporters voted for him, and quite frankly in effect his team. They did so partly because the president indicated President Bush was absolutely wrong on everything concerning enemy combatants.

President Obama catered to the ACLU crowd [close Gitmo, civilian trials, etc.] in the election, but now it appears even to his supporters that he's making the same 'legal reasoning' decisions as President Bush had.

President Obama does owe President Bush a public apology.

Nuff Said...Dennis

Posted by: dgiansante | February 16, 2010 9:33 AM
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This is BS. Again, another case of Republican hyperbole. Because SS Trooper Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck start a fear campaign to make us so "terrified" of the terrorists, we all of a sudden are held hostage by them once again. Three hundred and nineteen terrorists have been tried in our legal court system with no ill effects. Of the three tried in military tribunals, two are walking the streets.

Posted by: MaggiePi | February 16, 2010 9:13 AM
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Dear Neeta Sonalkar, Please write your posts using corrected English. Apparently, you have been graduated from college. Your meaning is difficult to follow due to your inability to write a simple statement clearly. For instance,the Attorney General is not trying a "tragic memory".

Posted by: firefly1231 | February 16, 2010 8:33 AM
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