Senators: No Civilian Trials For 9/11 ConspiratorsFebruary 3, 2010 - by Eric Naing
Two Senate Democrats are teaming up with Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] to torpedo President Obama’s plan to try 9/11 co-conspirators in civilian court.
The president last November announced plans to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other co-defendants in lower Manhattan. Though, after objections were raised by lawmakers in both parties and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the administration now says no final decision has been made on the location of the trials.
But location isn’t the main issue for Graham. He doesn’t want Mohammed or any other alleged 9/11 conspirators to have a civilian trial in the first place.
At a press conference yesterday, Graham and eight other senators including Sen. Jim Webb [D, VA], Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT] announced legislation (S.2977) banning government dollars from going toward any civilian trial for the five alleged 9/11 conspirators. Graham pushed a similar amendment (S.Amdt.2669) last year but it was rejected by the Senate in a 54-45 vote.
Graham believes it would be dangerous and unprecedented to afford Mohammed these rights under the Constitution:
Military commissions are the proper venue for the trial of KSM and the other 9/11 conspirators. Civilian trials, which the Obama Administration has proposed, will be unnecessarily dangerous, legally messy, confusing to our own troops who fight and capture terrorists on the battlefield, and very expensive. Also, at the end of the day, do we really want to give KSM the biggest microphone in the world to spread his message of hate?
In a statement released yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT] disagrees:
Federal courts have proven time and again that they are capable of handling terrorism cases. They have successfully tried hundreds of terrorism cases… In stark contrast to that record, very few of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have been brought to justice through military commissions.
Webb, Lincoln and Lieberman, along with Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] and Sen. Mark Pryor [D, AR], joined all 40 Senate Republicans in supporting Graham’s previous amendment. Pryor is a co-sponsor of Graham’s new bill, but it’s currently unknown if Cantwell will do so as well. But even with her support, more Democrats will be needed to wrangle 60 votes.
Another interesting wrinkle is that instead of civilian trials, the bill would require the 9/11 conspirators to be tried by military tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Should it become law, the measure would make it impossible for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the camp.
Though Obama missed his deadline to close Gitmo by Jan. 22 of this year, he is clearly still trying to close the facility. His recently released budget, for example, includes $237 million to purchase the Thompson Correctional Center in northern Illinois as a new home for the detainees. Also included in Obama’s proposed budget is $200 million to help pay for security for so-call “terror trials.”