Napolitano defends bringing Guantanamo detainees to U.S.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the Obama administration’s plans to bring terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States — countering critics who questioned whether it would create security risks.
“There’s no question in my mind that those detainees who would be moved to the United States would be held in such a fashion that they would not be any threat to public safety, and I say that as a former prosecutor,” Napolitano said in an interview during the Reuters Washington Summit. She served as a U.S. attorney in Arizona during the Clinton administration.
President Barack Obama has pledged to close the controversial prison by Jan. 22, 2010, including bringing some of the terrorism suspects to U.S. soil for trial in military commissions or U.S. criminal courts. There have been questions and doubts about whether his goal can be achieved because of political, legal and logistical complications.
Napolitano held out hope that the administration could meet the fast-approaching deadline: “I would hope so.” She declined to comment on the likely location of where the detainees could be held in the United States.
But Republicans have criticized the idea of bringing the terrorism suspects to U.S. soil, arguing that they are not entitled access to the criminal court system and could pose threats to the communities where they may be imprisoned.
Her remarks came as former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued a stinging condemnation of the Obama administration plan, writing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that civilian courts were not the right place to try the terrorism suspects and could make communities, jurors and courts targets.
“Based on my experience trying such cases, and what I saw as attorney general, they aren’t. That is not to say that civilian courts cannot ever handle terrorist prosecutions, but rather that their role in a war on terror—to use an unfashionably harsh phrase—should be, as the term ‘war’ would suggest, a supporting and not a principal role,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Mukasey served as a federal prosecutor in the 1970s and then as a federal judge in New York from 1988 to 2006, presiding over terrorism cases that included the trial of those who plotted to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. He was attorney general under former President George W. Bush.
While Mukasey also argued in his op-ed that imprisoning terrorism suspects in the United States could expose others in the prison to their beliefs, many of the individuals convicted like Zacarias Moussaoui are kept in maximum security facilities isolated from the general population.
He also warned that U.S. criminal court procedures would risk revealing too much sensitive information and that the cases against Guantanamo detainees were not built for civilian court proceedings. Many of the hearings in U.S. District Court for petitions by prisoners seeking their release from Guantanamo have been held in closed session to protect classified information.
So do you believe U.S. criminal courts can handle the terrorism cases and would communities become targets or should terrorism suspects from Guantanamo only be tried in military commissions?
For more news from the Reuters Washington Summit, click here.
– Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Napolitano speaks to the Reuters Washington Summit)