Senators Slam Transfer of Prisoner

Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:27pm

Republicans and some Democrats bristled Tuesday at the Obama administration’s decision to bring a suspected terrorist from the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military prison to the United States for trial.

Meanwhile, two Senators threatened to hold up action on the supplemental war spending bill if Democratic leaders do not include their measure to bar the release of detainee abuse photos.

House and Senate Republicans complained that accused African embassy bomber Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s Tuesday arrival in New York for trial was akin to President Barack Obama thumbing his nose at Congress.

“They brought him here in defiance of an overwhelming vote of the United States Senate,— Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “Clearly the administration is trying to use this as sort of a test case for their plans to move more and more of these people into the states. But you have the Senate on the record, not once, but twice, saying these guys should not be brought into the U.S.—

Last month, the House and Senate separately passed bills barring detainee transfers to the U.S. until Oct. 1 at the earliest. Currently, the two chambers are trying to change that language on the supplemental war spending conference report to allow the administration the flexibility to move more detainees to the U.S. for trial. But the issue has delayed a resolution of the conference, given that many Democrats have recoiled at Republican charges that permitting terrorists into the U.S., even in shackles, would present an unacceptable national security risk.

Indeed, Thune said he doubted Democratic leaders could withstand a filibuster if they change the bill in that way.

“If they do that, I’m not sure they can get the votes in the Senate,— Thune said. “They’re going to run the risk of losing Democrats.—

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said Ghailani’s transfer to the U.S. for trial was acceptable because the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania occurred in 1998, but he warned that his case should not be used as a gateway to giving all Guantánamo detainees access to U.S. courts and laws. Lieberman prefers that suspected terrorists picked up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks be tried in military commissions.

“It’s not a precedent for others detained after 9/11,— he said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also ratcheted up his rhetoric in opposition to Obama’s plan to close the prison by January 2010.

“This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America,— Boehner said in a statement. “Without a plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists into the United States, in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the American people and serious questions from Members of Congress of both parties.—

But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hoped that the Justice Department’s decision to bring Ghailani to trial in the U.S. would make people realize how relatively routine a terrorist prosecution could be.

“I think it’s going to remind people that there are individuals that should be prosecuted. In this case this man has been accused of killing a dozen Americans. And the position taken by many of the Republican Senators is we would not even allow him to be brought to court for trial in America,— Durbin said.

He added that he believes Ghailani’s arrival in the U.S. might help those who want to tweak the language in the supplemental.

“It’s going to bring this back to the realm of reality,— Durbin said. “We have 347 convicted terrorists in our prisons. No one has ever escaped a Supermax prison. We’ve tried terrorists in Virginia, in New York. … It’s part of the reality of life.—

Meanwhile, Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday that they would hold up any and all legislation in the Senate until Congress passes their legislation to prohibit the release of photos showing detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re not going to do any more business in the Senate,— Graham said. “Nothing’s going forward until we get this right.—

Both Senators said they were alarmed that a House-Senate conference committee appeared poised to eliminate language inserted by the two Senators that would block public disclosure of detainee abuse photos.

If the provision is eliminated, Lieberman and Graham said they would vote against the supplemental and any attempts to bring debate on the measure to a close. Graham predicted that most, if not all, of the 40 Senate Republicans would do the same, and Lieberman said he would be reaching out to Democrats on the issue as well. That could be enough to filibuster the supplemental measure on the Senate floor because 60 votes are needed to end debate on a bill.

Both men said the release of more photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at prisons in Afghanistan would only inflame tensions in the Middle East and further serve as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida.

Obama has barred such interrogation methods.

Graham accused House Democratic leaders of being beholden to “a fringe element in American politics— because he said they appear to be taking the side of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the other photos.

Obama supports the provision.