Obama slams opposition to civilian trials for terrorism suspects
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.
“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.”
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– Photo credit: Reuters/Chip East (the Metropolitan Correctional Center next to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan)