Obama slams opposition to civilian trials for terrorism suspects

February 1, 2010

President Barack Obama didn’t mince words when he criticized Republican opposition to prosecuting foreign terrorism suspects in U.S. criminal courts rather than in military tribunals, calling it “rank politics.”

His administration was caught off guard last week when opposition mounted to trying the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks in a lower Manhattan courthouse amid concerns about security and costs as well as potentially affording the suspects certain legal rights.

“One of the things that we’ve had to try to communicate to the country at large is that, historically, we’ve tried a lot of terrorists in our courts; we have them in our federal prisons; they’ve never escaped,” Obama said in an interview with YouTube.GUANTANAMO/

“It’s been one of those things that’s been subject to a lot of, in some cases, pretty rank politics,” he said, referring to Republican opposition to the criminal trials. While much of the opposition has been by Republicans, a few Democrats have joined in the disapproval.

A group of senators, including Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, plan to offer legislation on Tuesday that would prevent any funding of the criminal trials, though it was not immediately clear whether there was sufficient support or how they would seek to pass the measure.

Obama’s budget for fiscal 2011, which starts Oct. 1, includes $73 million to transfer, incarcerate and prosecute the Sept. 11 suspects, including the self-professed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The proposed budget also included $237 million to buy, fortify and upgrade a state prison in Thomson, Illinois, to house foreign terrorism suspects now at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Many Republicans have also opposed closing that facility, arguing it is the safest place to keep terrorism suspects.

“Gitmo is a bought and paid for facility that can be run at a low cost and with guaranteed security for the American people. It also ensures that terrorists will not be brought to the U.S. where they will be able to use the rights afforded to criminal defendants to obtain lighter sentences and broadcast their terrorist agenda from center stage.,” said Representative Lamar Smith, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Obama refused to back down on closing the Guantanamo prison, but he did acknowledge that Congress can withhold the money to do so.  He has argued that anti-American militants have used the prison as a recruiting tool.

“This is something that we’ve got to work through both in Congress but also with public opinion so that people understand that ultimately this is the right thing to do,” Obama said. “By closing Guantanamo, we can regain the moral high ground in the battle against these terrorist organizations.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Chip East (the Metropolitan Correctional Center next to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan)

9 comments

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On the one hand people cry foul because there is no justice being served. But then on the other hand people gripe and bitch about the trials being held in NY.

It makes no sense. We’ve had serial killers. We’ve imprisoned the likes of Manson, Gacy, and Jeffery Dahmer. I don’t think a “terrorist” is going to be any more difficult to keep imprisoned than any of the others mentioned. Get the trials over with already.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

It has been always that a combatant not in uniform or a saboteur can be executed without any protection from the Geneva Convention. Why are we giving these murderers rights of the American citizen-which they are not-and spend our tax money from our hard work for a civil trial? Were not the German war criminals tried by a tribunal?

Posted by markson | Report as abusive

One of the few issues I will agree with the President on. The largest issue I have with the whole situation is that it has been years these “people” have been held without a trial. We day in and day out have court cases for foreign individuals within our civilian courts, and this should be no different. Once convicted of their crimes against the United States, their punishment should be equivalent to pain and suffering they enacted on their victims. However, as a individual who sees the American justice system as not perfect yet one of the best available – these individuals do require a trial in a timely manner. If for nothing else than to give some closure to these acts committed against the American way of life on US soil.

Posted by LostInteligence | Report as abusive

The President needs to remember that the American people have no interest in doing what makes sense. We are still an infant nation. Please stop talking to us as though we are mature adults. Our founding fathers, Ronald Reagan, and Jesus would all be ashamed.

Posted by Streetfighter | Report as abusive

Why aren’t the terrorist trials held in Washington D.C.? It would be much more convenient for all concerned parties (i.e. Al-Qaida and the Taliban, politicians, journalists, jurists, attorneys). For that matter, close Gitmo and bring all of its detainees and house them in jails and prisons in Maryland and northern Virginia. Let the Democrats walk the walk in Washington instead of just talking the talk. Allow President Obama and his minions to sleep with one eye open nightly. They claim to want to show the world that America’s justice system works. Mr. President, why don’t you show the American people that the justice system works? Have these trials in your front yard! Jail those prisoners in the suburbs of Washington. LEAD, Mr. President! Practice what you preach!

Posted by dixieboy1954 | Report as abusive

The President is only inviting a security & legal headache.
Perhaps he should have gotten the opinion of the general public before proceeding.
Who wants this issue in your city.Nobody wants them back.
Likewise Detroit has similar problems.
These nuts can always say the system was tilted against them because of (bad)accurate Press releases detailing their madness.
China/Russia has a great way to deal with them.2 days in court & that’s the end of it.
Dash

Posted by Dash496 | Report as abusive

[...] Obama slams opposition to civilian trials for terrorism suspects [...]

There’s nothing wrong with doing this at Guantanamo. It is less expensive and isn’t on our soil.

But a trial really isn’t necessary when the professed 9/11 mastermind is already guilty.

Posted by TyC | Report as abusive

Republicans were in favor of trying terrorists in criminal court until it became time for the Obama Justice Department to try someone. And just as they have sacrificed their credibility on so many other issues in their campaign to undermine the President, they have flipped on this issue as well. It’s pure political noisemaking, pure and simple.
Criminal trials have a higher conviction rate than military commissions do. It doesn’t matter. The courtroom proceedings will not be broadcast. The defendants will have no “megaphone”. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Obama’s domestic enemies have an opportunity to use the fear and ignorance of television viewers across the nation against him. That’s the war they are fighting.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

Dash. You actually hit it right on the head.

No one wants the trials in their city. So, it makes the most sense to just try them in Guantanamo. It eliminates the problem of this taking place on our own soil.

Well, at least they are moving them out of NYC. What a slap in the face it was to try them there after over 3000 people lost their lives only to see the mastermind in court right down the street.

Why even waste money on a trial for someone who boasts of leading the plan to fly those planes into the WTC? Help him meet his 72 virgins sooner by saving money on a needless trial.

Posted by TyC | Report as abusive