Sen. Conrad: Comment That People Who Think Terrorists Shouldn't Be Tried in Civilian Courts Should ‘Go Somewhere Else’ Was a ‘Miscommunication'

December 7, 2009 - 5:25 PM
A representative for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) says the senator's comment to CNSNews.com that people who don't think that civilian courts are the proper forum for terrorism trials "ought to go somewhere else" was a "miscommunication."
(CNSNews.com) – A representative of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) says that the senator’s comment to CNSNews.com that people who don’t think that civilian courts are the proper forum for terrorism trials “ought to go somewhere else” was a “miscommunication.”
 
Sean Neary, spokesman for the North Dakota Democrat, told CNSNews.com that Conrad’s comments were a “miscommunication” between the senator and CNSNews.com.
 
“I do not see the point of contention here. Again, it seems to be a miscommunication,” Neary said.”
 
On Nov. 19, CNSNews.com asked Conrad: “[W]e’re going to have a civilian trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If our troops, I mean the evidence against him is going to be found there in Afghanistan on the battlefield, if our troops need to enter a house and they think that there’s evidence there should they have to establish probable cause and get a search warrant from a judge first?”
 
Conrad responded that the American criminal justice system was perfectly capable of trying al Qaeda terrorists – adding that anyone who didn’t believe in that system should “go somewhere else.”
 
Conrad: Look, we have tried terrorists in our courts and done so very successfully in the past, and that is our system. So, y’know, I mean if people don’t believe in our system maybe they ought to go somewhere else. I believe in America.
 
However, on Dec. 2, Conrad wrote in the Bismarck Tribune that CNSNews.com had taken his comments out of context, explaining that he actually wanted Mohammed tried in a military tribunal.
 
In his letter to the Tribune’s editor, Conrad claimed that his comments were made in the context of a conversation about terrorist trials he was having with multiple reporters. The excerpt published by CNSNews.com – Conrad claimed – referred to the concept of civilian trials generally, Conrad denied they referred specifically to Mohammed’s trial.
 
“I write today to set the record straight on my response to a question about whether terrorists should be tried in our civilian court system. Walking down the hall in the Capitol recently, I had a series of conversations with reporters about terrorist trials,” Conrad wrote.
“When the reporter in question asked about the legitimacy of civilian trials, my response was meant as a defense of America’s judicial system as a general principal, not in respect to the specific prosecution of suspected terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” he wrote.
“I went on to note that our federal courts have successfully prosecuted dozens of terrorism suspects. In some cases, civilian trials — as opposed to military tribunals — are appropriate as they can show the world the strength of America’s justice system,” Conrad added.
Conrad then affirmed that he supports military tribunals, adding that his suggestion that people who disagree that civilian courts are the proper place for terrorist trials should “go somewhere else” referred to people who either wanted to lock terrorists up forever or simply let them go without any trial at all.
 
“Now, let me be clear about what I believe with respect to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Such an individual — someone who openly declared war on America and masterminded one of the most horrific attacks on American soil — should be tried as an enemy combatant by a military tribunal,” Conrad wrote.
 
“He is clearly a special case, and the perfect example of an appropriate case to be tried in a military tribunal,” he added.
 
“When I said that those who don’t believe in America’s judicial system should go someplace else, I was referring to both those who suggest that detainees should be set free without facing trial and to those who believe they should never be subject to trial,” Conrad wrote.
 
Here is the full audio of CNSNews.com’s Nov. 19 interview with Sen. Kent Conrad [transcript below]. (Hear Audio)
 
Conrad: Um, there was one other thing actually. I was just going back to talk to my staff about, um, and that’s how the affordability provisions work.
 
Female Reporter: Meaning, who’s going to pay what?
 
Conrad: Yeah. I’ve not seen an analysis yet. I understand how the affordability provisions work, but I’ve not seen how it affects people at different income levels.
 
Female Reporter: You haven’t seen a chart yet?
 
Conrad: No, I’ve not seen a chart. I’ve not seen a chart on – what they call a distributional chart. But, I mean, the things that I – and I had a lengthy review this morning with my staff – I really, I just give him very high marks. I think he did an exceptionally good job in a very difficult –
 
Female Reporter: What do you – have you talked with Snowe?
 
Conrad: I’ve not.
 
Female Reporter: Is it your sense, I mean Reid did say he’d have the vote on Saturday –
 
Conrad: Yeah.
 
Female Reporter: Is that a sign that he’s – will have the 60 votes or is it your sense that –
 
Conrad: Y’know, I would think it would, people would, support because this is y’know going to the bill. This is just a question of going to the bill. This is a question of beginning the debate and having a chance to offer amendments. Which seems to me even if people were opposed to some aspect of what’s in the bill now, y’know the way to deal with that is to go to the bill, offer an amendment, if you’re not satisfied with the outcome then you can vote against the bill on final passage or you can vote against cloture to end debate.
 
So to me this is almost perfunctory – a vote to go to the bill. Y’know I mean certainly it’s worthy of debate.
 
Male Reporter: How long – on the floor – do you think it’ll take?
 
Conrad: I think probably a day and a half maybe (laughs). I don’t know, I think it’ll be weeks –
 
Male Reporter: Probably go right up until Christmas?
 
Conrad: -- be weeks. I think so.
 
Male Reporter: Yes, yeah.
 
CNSNews.com: On uh, in the wake of yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearings where Attorney General Holder suggested that there were – there’d be civilian trials for Osama bin Laden. When we catch bin Laden, should he be Mirandized? Should he be given his Miranda rights now that -- ?
 
Conrad: Uh, I think when we find bin Laden, uh, it will be ended before any judicial proceedings begin. Y’know, let’s be clear, if bin Laden is found it’ll be, there will be a, that will end violently.
 
CNSNews.com: You don’t think it’ll come to that then? It’s –
 
Conrad: No.
 
CNSNews.com: What about, we’ve, we’re going to have a civilian trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If our troops, I mean the evidence against him is going to be found there in Afghanistan on the battlefield, if our troops need to enter a house and they think that there’s evidence there should they have to establish probable cause and get a search warrant from a judge first?
 
Conrad: You’re not, you’re not being serious about these questions are you?
 
CNSNews.com: No, in a civilian trial that’s – if, like, if I was on trial or you were on trial – that would have to be –
 
Conrad: Look, we have tried terrorists in our courts and done so very successfully in the past and that is our system. So, y’know, I mean if people don’t believe in our system maybe they ought to go somewhere else. I believe in America.
 
CNSNews.com: Alright, thanks.