GOP Cheers Reported Reversal on Terror Trials

Posted March 5, 2010 at 4:04pm

Senate Republicans hailed news reports Friday that President Barack Obama is retreating on his pledge to try Sept. 11 suspects in civilian court.

“One of President Obama’s first acts in office was to stop the prosecutions of several terrorists, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, by military commission,” Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “While that decision delayed justice for the victims of 9/11, I am encouraged by reports that the President’s advisors may now be recognizing what many of us have long advocated — that terrorists should be tried by military commission, not in civilian courts.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also weighed in.

“The decision to bring the 9/11 plotters into our communities for a civilian trial was a horrible idea in the first place, and no one should be surprised by the growing public opposition,” McConnell said in a statement. “Our military commission system was created on a bipartisan basis for the specific purpose of trying foreign terrorists.”

According to a report in the Washington Post, Obama is poised to recommend that Mohammed, the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, be prosecuted in a military tribunal instead of civilian court, as Attorney General Eric Holder has suggested. By trying the suspects in military court, the report states, Obama hopes to make good on a campaign promise by convincing Congress to approve the funding needed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

That idea, however, likely remains dead on arrival for most Congressional Republicans.

“I would encourage the President to resume prosecution of these terrorists by military commission as soon as possible, and to use the secure facilities at Guantanamo Bay, which are in place specifically for the purpose of detaining and prosecuting terrorists captured abroad,” Kyl said.

Republicans have repeatedly asserted that Democrats and the administration have mismanaged the issues of terrorism and national security.

Democrats have sought to emphasize the administration’s successes in the war on terror, including detailed examples of terrorist attacks that were disrupted and instances when different branches of government have worked together on the issue.

Democrats critical of the Bush administration have praised Obama for upholding the rule of law — and on Friday, at least one Democratic lawmaker expressed disappointment over his potential retreat from trying terror suspects in civilian court.

“We have a great track record of successfully trying and convicting terrorists in civilian courts,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said in a statement. “The military commission system is largely untested, and these cases could easily get bogged down in years of legal challenges. The best way to bring these terrorists to justice swiftly is through our civilian courts.”