February 2nd, 2010
04:07 PM ET
13 years ago

Democratic opposition to terror trials grows

Washington (CNN) – Congressional Democrats are increasingly concerned about the President's plan to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States for trial, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday to block it.

Eighteen senators, including two Democrats and one Independent, unveiled a bill Tuesday to withhold funding the President requested to try terror suspects in civilian courts.

"It's an unusual thing we're doing here," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT. "We are trying to use Congress' power of the purse to stop these trials."

The move comes a day after the President requested in his budget a boost in homeland security funding to help pay for the transfer and trials of detainees on U.S. soil.

One of the Democratic co-sponsors is Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who is facing a tough re-election battle this year.

When asked by CNN if the White House is being tone deaf in asking Democrats like her to support bringing Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., Lincoln replied: "I think I would be tone deaf if I didn't respond to the people who I believe are very concerned about how this is happening, and if I wasn't speaking out and speaking my mind. It's why I'm here today."

"I think its important for the administration to hopefully hear from those of us who do have grave concerns," said Lincoln.

A similar Senate measure got 55 votes in November, not enough to meet a 60 vote threshold to pass.

But some Democratic senators who voted no last time said they're now inclined to support a measure
blocking the administration's plans for Guantanamo detainees to be tried in civilian courts.

"I think we should look for other options," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania told CNN. "It's not just the security cost but the real concern people have as to what that would do to their communities."

"I think there has been a shift in a lot of the analysis and a lot of the thinking that under girds what people's positions are," said Casey.

Democratic sources said the way Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown successfully used this issue against his Democratic opponent in last month's Massachusetts Senate race has spooked some congressional Democrats.

In fact the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin D-Illinois, who supports trying detainees in civilian courts, told CNN that Senate Democrats had a spirited conversation about the issue during Tuesday's policy lunch.

"It's controversial, there is no question about it," said Durbin. "There are some Democratic senators who oppose using regular courts for our detainees."

Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, another Democrat facing re-election this year, said he believes military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay or another military facility is likely the best way to achieve justice in a speedy, safe and cost effective way. He also said he's inclined to support a measure to withhold funding to bring detainees before U.S. courts.

"I'm not going to vote for $200 million dollar more in security if we can try them in a place where you don't have to spend that money, not at a time when you have to cut funding for a lot of worthy things," said Bayh.

Other Democrats, however, still support trying detainees in the civilian court system.

"I'm not for it being NYC, I think that's a bad idea," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, "but I think we should be able to prosecute and house terrorists in our own country."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, issued a statement arguing that "federal courts have proven time and again that they are capable of handling terrorism cases."

"They have successfully tried hundreds of terrorism cases, and nearly 350 terrorists are being held securely in our federal prisons today. In stark contrast to that record, very few of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have been brought to justice through military commissions," said Leahy.

Filed under: Congress • Democrats • Homeland Security • Terrorism
soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. valwayne

    Where were these Democrats months ago when Obama and Eric Holder first announced the insane plans to spend hundreds of millions on Circus trials for terrorists in NYC? Where were they on Christmas day when the Obama administration declared that "The System Worked" and read the Underwear bomber his right to remain silent instead of iterrogating him to to save American lives. Where were these Democrats when Obama decided to persecute the heroes in our intelligence agencies who kept us safe after 9/11? I suppose better late than never, but somehow I think the message the MA votes sent that they are all on the verge of losing their jobs because of the corruption and insanity has a lot to do with this. And where are the other 58 Democrats in the Senate? Do they approve of the insanity?

    February 2, 2010 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    I KNOW New York can handle the KSM trial.

    There have been other trials in New York City of terrorists (including the shoe bomber during GW Bush's first term), without major disruption. Just look up the details on the successful prosecutions of Yousef Ramzi and the USS Cole bombers. Manhattan wasn't "shut down", there was no circus, people were not inconvenienced, there were no attacks.

    This whole thing is being exaggerated by the GOP and Fox, as part of their on-going efforts to be obstructionist and a general pain in the rear.

    The GOP and their lackeys are simply a pathetic bunch of jerks!

    February 2, 2010 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
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