Bipartisan Push Builds to Stop Terrorist Trials in Civilian Courts

Feb 2, 2010 2:08pm

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Two Democrats joined Republicans today introducing legislation to deny President Obama money to transport suspected 9/11 conspirators stateside and try them in civilian courts. It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan. “I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. The President acknowledged Congressional opposition and public opinion much in an interview broadcast Monday on YouTube. And while he said opposition to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay has “been one of those things that's been subject to a lot of, in some cases, pretty rank politics,” President Obama admitted that if Congress rejects his funding request, he will be hampered in his plan.

Because Congress ultimately controls the purse strings in creating new facilities. If Congress makes a decision that they are going to try to block the opening of a new facility, it potentially constrains what our administration can do,” he said.

The President included $73 million in his budget request, but added he would work with local officials to appropriate more money as necessary. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has estimated holding terror trials in New York City could reach $200 million per year for security.

Senators voted overwhelmingly in May of 2009 to strip funds for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison from a war funding bill.

Lincoln was today joined by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, of Virginia, whose state includes the federal court where 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui was tried. Webb said today that the US should not be the criminal court for the world and argued government plans to permanently incarcerate some GTMO detainees it does not feel comfortable trying would create legal issues in the civilian court system. “Confuses place with process,” Webb said. “The Issue is not Guantanamo Bay.” “It's hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. Republicans have rallied around this issue. Lincoln and Webb were joined by Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, who often votes with Republicans on security issues, as well as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-Ariz). Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as “common criminals” would be like “justice in Alice in Wonderland.” "These people are war criminals not common criminals,” said Lieberman, roughly. “The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war.” Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.” But Graham said those who oppose civilian trials are not fear mongering.

“The consequences of the President’s decisions are scaring people. Not politicians,” said Graham. Graham argued that the military commission process he helped develop is better equipped and more appropriate to try the 9/11 suspects while keeping the trials off US shores. “It is about the system that is best able to protect the American people,” Graham said. There was also criticism of the decision to read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights. “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need,” said Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

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