Kentucky Terror Arrests Fuel Ongoing Battle: Guantanamo Tribunals or U.S. Courts?

VIDEO: Military commission will try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo
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Although it is far from the headlines, the battle over where to try terrorism detainees wages on between Attorney General Eric Holder and Congress.

In the latest salvo, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky argued Wednesday that the two alleged terrorists arrested in his home state should be sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, after Holder criticized Congress last week for blocking efforts to bring detainees from Cuba to U.S. soil for trial.

Holder, speaking Thursday to a friendly crowd of lawyers at the American Constitution Society, reiterated his belief that civilian courts are more than capable of handling terrorist trials.

"Our criminal justice system has proven ... time and again, that it provides all the authority and flexibility we need to effectively combat terrorist threats," he said. "Since 9/11, hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts."

Holder said in November 2009, with great fanfare, that the alleged mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would be tried in civilian courts in New York. But the decision was later overturned by the Obama administration after state officials and congressional Republicans expressed security concerns.

Since then, Congress has stymied efforts to transfer detainees to U.S. soil.

Holder has consistently maintained that accused terrorists should be tried in either civilian courts or military commissions, depending on the circumstances of the specific case. But Holder's speech Thursday was directed at the criticism of using civilian courts.

He said the Article III court system was the country's "most effective terror-fighting weapon" and that "in disrupting potential attacks and effectively interrogating, prosecuting and incarcerating terrorists, there is, quite simply, no more powerful tool than our civilian court system."

McConnell pushed back hard Wednesday in the Washington Post, writing that Holder insulted those on the front lines when he suggested the courts were the "most effective terror-fighting weapon." He also accused Holder of attempting to "justify the Obama administration's two-year misadventure in treating captured terrorists like common criminals."

McConnell pointed to a case brewing in his home state of Kentucky, where two Iraqi nationals -- Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi -- were arrested last month in Bowling Green and indicted for allegedly providing assistance to al Qaeda in Iraq.

In his op-ed article, McConnell presented the case for moving the men to Guantanamo.

"The Justice Department says Alwan and Hammadi should be tried in a civilian setting because they were caught here," he wrote. "This is ludicrous."

The Justice Department, through spokesman Matthew A. Miller, released a statement accusing McConnell of "selectively lifting words" from Holder's speech and using them out of context.

Miller wrote that what would be an insult to the thousands of men and women who have fought to defeat al Qaeda would be if every weapon, "military, diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement," is not left on the table.

"This administration has reformed military commissions and we have confidence in their ability as one tool in our fight against terrorists," he said, "but they are still largely untested."