WASHINGTON (CNN) – Growing partisan tensions over national security issues exploded Friday as several top Republicans ripped Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try five suspected 9/11 terrorists in civilian court.
The attorney general was accused of risking Americans' security by treating the suspects like "common criminals" with a right to greater
constitutional protections than they would otherwise receive in a military trial.
Five Guantanamo Bay detainees with alleged ties to the September 11, 2001, attacks - including confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - will be tried in civilian court in New York, Holder announced Friday.
"These terrorists planned and executed the mass murder of thousands of innocent Americans. Treating them like common criminals is unconscionable," Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said in a written statement.
"The attacks of September 11th were an act of war. Reverting to a pre-9/11 approach to fighting terrorism and bringing these dangerous
individuals onto U.S. soil needlessly compromises the safety of all Americans."
Cornyn asserted that Holder had irresponsibly put "political ideology ahead of the safety of the American people just to fulfill an ill-conceived campaign promise."
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the decision meant Mohammed and the other defendants would be able to claim new protections, including Miranda and Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
"Bringing terrorists to U.S. soil expands their constitutional rights and could result in shorter sentences," Smith claimed in a statement.
"America already gives terrorists more constitutional rights than any other country. The administration should not prioritize the rights of
terrorists over the rights of Americans to be safe and secure," he said.
Smith argued that trying suspected terrorists in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the "most appropriate venue and safest option for the American people."
He also said the public needed to be "reassured that no terrorist will ever be released into our communities."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, agreed with Smith that suspected terrorists ought to be tried by military commissions.
"It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims' families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America," he said in a statement.
The September 11 terrorist "are war criminals, not common criminals," he argued. They are "not American citizens entitled to all the constitutional rights American citizens have in our federal courts."
Lieberman argued that the updated military commission system recently signed into law by Obama "provides standards of due process and fairness that fully comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions."
Critics of military commissions, however, offered strong praise for Holder's decision. Anthony Romero, the head of American Civil Liberties Union, called it "a huge victory for restoring due process and the rule of law, as well as repairing America's international standing, an essential part of ensuring our national security."
Romero argued that it would "have been an enormous blow to American values if we had tried these defendants in a (military commission) process riddled with legal problems."
Trying the suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility would have amounted to "a miscarriage of justice in sham proceedings," Romero said.
Romero criticized Holder's decision to try five other detainees - including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind behind the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole - by military commission.
"Time and again the federal courts have proven themselves capable of handling terrorism cases while protecting both American values and sensitive national security information. Justice can only be served in our tried and true courts," Romero said.