November 13th, 2009
01:07 PM ET
9 years ago

Administration critics slam civilian trials for 9/11 suspects

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.

Filed under: 9/11
soundoff (299 Responses)
  1. Grant

    Okay, so they get a civilian trial. Fine, put them in Gen Pop then. No special treatment.

    November 13, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. Ron

    "McVeigh was a terrorist and he was tried in an American Court."

    He was also an American Citizen

    November 13, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  3. Mark

    Just because George Clooney thinks its a good idea doesn't mean it is...

    November 13, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. Jail???

    These terrorists attacked INNOCENT civilians on our soil!! The death of these civilians was not "collateral damage".... that is who they targeted. Why are there so many people on here saying they should go to jail for the rest of their lives?

    If found guilty, they deserve the death penalty PERIOD.

    November 13, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  5. What???

    I'm sorry its impossible to understand these knuckle draggers we call the GOP and their misled, misinformed, wildly confused supporters.

    The only why to remove to resolve the issue of these terrorist is have them face the music for their crimes. It seems rather reasonable and logical to try them in NY – the scene of the crime.

    It appears these GOP fools want to simply bring in Darth Cheney with his scatter rifle and blow them away in the middle of the night. Is that it? I doubt he could hit any of them; considering he only shoots americans in the face and has failed to ever identify any accurate information about the 911 terrorists in his entire time in office.

    November 13, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  6. Matt

    I'm a proud New Yorker and like most New Yorkers, I welcome to chance to try these men the AMERICAN WAY in the greatest city on earth. If they are guilty, then they will be found guilty; I have faith in this because I have faith in the constitution.

    I'm sorry if the legislators from Ohio and Texas are too afraid of these terrorists to let them have trials, but we New Yorkers are not.

    November 13, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  7. Linda B., Ga.

    I think it's a GREAT idea to send them to NYC to stand trial....The people of NYC would LOVE to get their hands on those MURDERERS....

    November 13, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  8. Ted from Calif.

    I have an idea; transfer the Republican and conservative teabagger terrorists to Gitmo. They insist that is a country club so they should like it there and real Americans (everyone except Republicans and conservative teabaggers) will be safer.

    November 13, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  9. Rachel

    Im not too concerned about them getting convicted, but I don think they are intitled to the same rights as american citizens, cause well they aren't.

    November 13, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  10. 30 Year Veteran

    The trial wherever it is should be quick like three days at the longest and not glamorized for the benefit of the News Media. They then should be taken out and lined up against a concrete wall and let the firing squad do their job.

    November 13, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. Send Bush and Cheney to jail too

    I suggest they throw Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Iraq War liars into that same case and try them too. The war they brought on with lies and corporate profits has brought our economy down and has killed thousands. So I guess that's OK for the rightwing nuts.

    November 13, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. PK

    If Obama really believes they have a Constitutional right to trial in U.S. Fed Cts then why is he denying other detainees in Gitmo and Bagram the same right? This is, of course, not to mention the suspected terrorists he kills via predator drone without so much as a military tribunal. And still further, there are the innocent civilians summarily executed via predator drone simply because they happened to be standing too close to those suspected terrorists. It just doesn't add up to a cohesive legal or moral framework.

    November 13, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  13. Jenn, Philadelphia

    What happens when the first bleeding-heart decides their confessions were coerced and lets them go,here, in America? Good idea to give them Constitutional rights by bringing them here. This Administration continues to amaze with its inexperience.

    November 13, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  14. Retired Army in San Antonio

    Concerned November 13th, 2009 12:50 pm ET

    Regardless of where you stand on Bush's economics... NO ONE can say he didn't keep us safe. He is perhaps the greatest COMMANDER IN CHIEF we've had!


    I can't tell if you're delusional or just plain stupid.

    Bush left us with two wars unresolved, a $ trillion spent, 4500+ dead and most of our enemies still on the loose......and oh, the numbers of enemy operatives and sympathizers world-wide are growing by the week.

    And THIS is your "greatest COMMANDER IN CHIEF"????

    You gotta be kidding!!!!!

    November 13, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  15. NYIowa

    I think it's important to put these terrorists into a civilian trial – treating them as common criminals instead of enemy combatants takes away the power they have as terrorists.

    Also, to Concerned –
    9/11 happened under W's watch. 3,000 Americans died because of his inaction. I don't understand how you can say he kept us safe.

    November 13, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  16. bob

    wow, people that think of the US military as murderers really need to emigrate to the homeland of these terrorists. I bet they think farmers are poisoning us, law enforcement officials are thugs that use excessive force when they taser a murder suspect and the only purpose of government is to take money from those that work and give it to those that don't.

    November 13, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  17. Lori in St Pete

    So jay at 12:49, does that mean the court system needs to find a jury of murderers every time there's a murder trial? Or a jury of rapists for a sexual assault trial? Honestly, if it wasn't so much fun to laugh at the rethuglican stupidity, I'd feel sorry for you all.

    November 13, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  18. return to common sense

    People should be careful of how their statements – especially Senators. We were not at war on Sept 11 nor did we declare war after that (how do you declare war on an organization?) we simply struck back. Only Congress has the right to declare war, not the President. That is in the Constitution. The term "enemy combatant" was made up by the Bush administration so that they did not have to call them "prisoners of war" for which there are rule on how prisoners are treated.

    Also, the first time the World Trade Centers were attacked by terrorists, they were tried in New York City – not Gitmo. One more thing (and this is from the Constitution)

    "In the United States every person accused of a felony (serious crime) has a constitutional right to a trial by jury, which arises from Article Three of the United States Constitution, which states in part, "The Trial of all Crimes...shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed."

    In other words, since the terrorist acts were committed in New York, Pennsylvania and DC, the trials should be held there.

    The Constitution is what we pride ourselves on living by. If we pick and chose only to live by it when it suits us, then the document is a sham.

    November 13, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  19. charlie in Maine

    I am not a terrorist symphathizer and I resent the implication that the American system is not capable of dealing witht terrorists. Im sure if you had had a chance to ask Timothy McVeih just before he drew his last right-wing extremist skin-head breath he might have agreed that our system worked better than he had planned.

    Do you idiots on the right really think that torturing these animals makes us a better nation? No I say. Try them. And if they are found guilty execute them. Unless you can show that they meant to commit suicide in their planned attacks then keep them alive just to spite them.

    November 13, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. Dan Holiday

    There should be no trials. These people are guilty. They should be doused in gasoline and lit on fire. We could watch them run into cement walls over and over or (like little airplanes); maybe try to put themselves out to no avail like the people who burned to death in the WTC. Heck, we could even charge money for it like a Pay Per View event. I bet more than half of America would The ones that don't watch can be sent to Europe where they belong...bunch of leftist, socialist morons. And before you flame it...I know this is hateful and mean. Guess what? I don't care you sniveling hippies.

    November 13, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  21. valwayne

    And we wonder how the FBI and Military could have missed the RED Flags and Whistles that were going off before Major Hasan launced his Jihad and killed 13 innocent people. Obama doesn't consider a murdering terrorist a terrorist. No they are just misunderstood criminals that need the benefit of the U.S. Justice system and maybe some rehabilition. So Obama's brought the murdering terrorists to the U.S. To NY where he will provide them with multi-million dollar defense teams, and a circus trial that will cost tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars. We have 10.2% UNEMPLOYMENT, Trillion upon trillions in corrupt spending and debt and Obama is going to spend hundreds of millions on a huge circus for murdering terrorists. Incredible!!!!!

    November 13, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  22. Economist

    Mr. Cornyn. Tough. The system was good enough for the Oklahoma city bombings. The system is good enough for all Americans. This *isn't* a "war", and even if it were, we never followed the Geneva Conventions on prisoner treatment. So they get justice whether you like it or not. You stupid right wingers would have us lose all our rights in your idiotic crusades.

    November 13, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  23. stevegee


    Obama's giving brutal terrorists safe haven in our civilian court system. And it's going to cost the taxpayers millions to provide them with public defenders.

    Never thought I see my country attacked by its own "leaders."

    November 13, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  24. anotherGDlefty

    Try him in VA. The death penalty seems to be fast tracked there. If it is good enough for the Beltway Sniper, it's good enough for Khalid.

    November 13, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  25. D. Tree

    If you think they should not be tried on American soil, you do no believe in the faith of our Founders.

    I have every faith our justice system will deliver the proper verdict – to think otherwise is to cast doubt on our own moral justification.

    November 13, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
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