House Republicans Blast Civilian Terror Trials As Obama’s ‘Most Dangerous’ Decision

By Matt Cover | November 19, 2009 | 11:00 AM EST

( – Five senior House Republicans are slamming the Obama administration for its decision to try five 9-11 conspirators in civilian court. They say the president has failed to explain why those terrorists – including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – are not getting military trials.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), all ranking members of various House committees, criticized Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for revertomg to a “pre-9/11 mentality” that views terrorists as criminals. The terrorist threat requires more than a law enforcement approach, the five wrote in a letter to Obama.
Hoekstra, the Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, said the administration had “failed” to explain to the American people “the fundamental question of why” some terrorists, including Abd al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole, were receiving military tribunals while others, such as Mohammed, were being tried in federal court.
King, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said Obama’s decision to bring the 9-11 plotters to the U.S. for trial was the “most dangerous” the president has made: “The president is unilaterally ending the war against terrorism and returning us to a pre-September 11 law enforcement regime.”
Because the trials will take place in federal court, “The president is conferring Constitutional rights on enemy combatants who are not entitled to Constitutional rights,” King said.
King wants the terrorists to be tried by military tribunals at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay. But, he added, “If they did come to the United States – and I’m totally opposed to that – it should still be in a military tribunal [because] they are not entitled to a civilian trial and Constitutional rights.”
Hoekstra agreed: “We have a place to do this, we can do it down in Gitmo – it was specifically designed and built for these kinds of activities and cases.”
Buck McKeon, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said the Obama administration’s decision suggests the military isn’t up to the task of trying terrorists.
“The military commission system was updated in the last…national defense reauthorization act that the president just signed into law, in order to protect classified information while affording detainees their basic due process rights,” McKeon noted.
“We feel that it demeans the military commission system if you say that they can’t receive a fair trial there and it would have to be done in civilian court.”
Lamar Smith of the House Judiciary Committee said Attorney General Holder “has not given us one good reason why they should not be tried at Gitmo.”
Holder said he chose the venue – federal civilian court – where he believes the government can present the strongest case. But in an interview with PBS’s Jim Lehrer, Holder also indicated that symbolism figured in his decision:
“You want to hold trials generally in the place where the crime has occurred,” Holder told Lehrer. “And that, for me, was a big factor, to bring these people to potentially to justice in the place where they committed these heinous acts, in New York, in lower Manhattan. I know that complicates the trial a bit in terms of picking a jury, but that symbolism seemed important to me.”
The 9-11 conspirators were about to be tried by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, but that process ended when President Obama – shortly after taking office -- announced his plans to close the detention center there.

Obama said his administration needed time to “review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically."