President Barack Obama drew a sharp rebuke from Congressional Republicans on Friday after his administration announced plans to prosecute 9/11 suspects, including the alleged mastermind behind the attacks, in New York.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a morning press conference that he will seek the death penalty against five suspects in the 9/11 attacks, including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. All five will be tried in civilian courts in New York.
Another five terrorist suspects allegedly tied to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole will face military commissions. All 10 of the suspects are currently being held at the prison in the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“I would not have authorized prosecution if I was not confident our outcome would be a successful one,— Holder said.
But Hill Republicans blasted the administration for making what they consider an “irresponsible— decision, given the possibility that terrorist suspects could be found “not guilty— over a technicality.
“This decision is further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality: treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best,— House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. The idea that any of the terrorist suspects could be set free “just blocks from Ground Zero should give every American pause.—
Instead, Boehner called for “a real strategy for fighting and winning the war on America’s terrorist enemies that includes an effective, credible and consistent plan for all terrorist detainees.—
House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted that reports of the New York trials for 9/11 suspects came on the same day that White House Counsel Greg Craig resigned after serving as Obama’s top legal adviser for less than a year. Craig has been rumored for weeks to be on the way out, in part because of what some regard as the White House’s botched handling of Gitmo policies, including establishing a one-year deadline to close the facility.
“The Obama administration has yet to respond to concerns about what to do with terrorists once they have served their sentences,— Smith said. “Will they be deported? Will they be released into American communities? The administration’s inability to articulate a plan for closing Gitmo gives me no confidence that they will come up with answers to these pressing questions.—
Senate Republicans were just as harsh in their criticism.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the decision “misguided— and “a step backward.—
Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said it is “a constant amazement to me that there are some who seem more concerned about extending legal protections to terrorists than security protection to Americans.—
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said the terrorist suspects are war criminals and therefore not entitled to the Constitutional rights that American citizens have in federal courts.
“It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America,— said Lieberman, a defense hawk who sides with Republicans on most military and defense policies.
At least one liberal group, however, applauded the decision to try the suspects in the United States as a step forward for justice.
Former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), now director of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, dismissed GOP attacks as “partisan, fear-based attacks by right-wing critics.— He noted that 195 terrorists have been convicted in U.S. federal courts since 2001, including those who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, who are now locked away in a federal prison.
Those terrorists were tried on President George W. Bush’s watch, Andrews said, “yet Republicans in Congress will no doubt attack the transfer of these detainees as a threat to Americans.—