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. karenilena

    Ok so they wanted to close GITMO, but they don't want the prisoners. How on earth do you close GITMO without putting the prisoners somewhere.

    I Obama the only one with guts in washington

    February 2, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. D.U.T.C.H.

    Yes we are fighting a war. A war against an enemy that doesn't fight under a flag. These terrorists are criminals!!! Mass murder is a crime. These terrorists should be tried in Criminal Federal Court.

    Richard Reid: CONVICTED
    Zacarias Moussaoui: CONVICTED
    WTC bombers of 1993: CONVICTED

    These senators are speaking a bunch of malarky. Our federal courts have prevailed in prosecuting these crimes against humanity.

    -As a New Yorker and a democrat, you guys need to grow a pair. This goes for Webb, Schumer and any other Sanate dems that are having a change of heart. These terrorists need to be tried at the place of the crime where they will DEFINITELY face justice.

    February 2, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  3. Nini

    It never made sense to treat the terrorist like an American citizen and it never will.

    As always Democrats used the rhetoric to go through an election year.
    Democrats dragged the Bush administration through mud for ONLY political reasons while knowing the military trial at Gitmo are the only logical ways to go.

    How sad for America.

    February 2, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  4. Sean

    I'm getting sick of these stories that only really make sense when you factor in the variable that "Senator X is facing a tough re-election battle this year". Are these spineless politicians ever going to stop worrying about their re-election and instead start worrying about what's best for the country?!?! It's absolutely ridiculous how self-serving they'll be at the expense of the people who they're supposed to be serving.

    February 2, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. Wimps and Weasels

    That's right folks. Your re-election and job for life agendas are much more important than our national security and our constitution and laws of justice. Now let's hear how the shoe bomber and ther other 20+ terroists who were tried in civilian courts during the Bush years was different than Mr. Underpants failed attempt on Christmas Day. The politics of our elected leaders in congress is what the rest of the world is watching and scratching their heads over. Shameful, just shameful.

    February 2, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    What happened? Did we wage war against individuals? When did this happen?

    February 2, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  7. John

    Democratic opposition to terror trials grows


    What's up with this fear of putting accused terrorists on trial? Because of what the suspects might say in their own defense? Or is it lack of confidence in the judicial system? What?

    How can it be any worse than trials of notorious domestic criminals?

    February 2, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  8. southerncousin

    It was a stupid, inept idea to close Gitmo and even the libs know it. I notice how fast CNN closed the comments for the Arne Duncan story. Just gave the libs enough time to stupidly defend him, blame Bush and then the shut it. Liberals are unbelieveably hypocritical as well as dumb as slimy rocks.

    February 2, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  9. Average American

    When does two democrats and one independent make a "growing opposition". By the way, Leiberman is really a Republican but likes to hang out with the majority so he can feed his hunger for power.

    February 2, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  10. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Here come a brace of "GWB tried the Shoebomber in a civilian court!" comments. That's because the Military Commission procedure was not yet available, the terrorist act having occurred only a couple of months after 9/11.

    Who in their right mind would try 5 terrorists in civilian courts in NYC? Other than that Beloved Leader and Eric Holder, that is? Anyone? And if the response is "GWB did it," so what? Are you libs justifying the decision on the ground that GWB did it? The irony is delicious.

    February 2, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  11. proud mother and sister of soldiers

    Are there any democrats trying to make ends meet to stay alive that don't have a problem with the exhorbitant amount of money Obama wants for trials when these people are enemy combatants and should be tried by the military as set forth by Congress? Bringing them to US soil automatically affords them all the rights as individuals in this country. Wrong, totally wrong!

    February 2, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  12. Speaking for Liberals

    Democratic elected officials are such gutless, spineless weak pathetic people. They cave and compromise much too often. They were swept into power thanks to ineptitude of the GOP. (The GOP, great at winning election...TERRIBLE at governing) and these nitwits can't get some the simplest things done. I feel sorry for Obama for having to work with these people

    February 2, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  13. Danny

    Hmmmmm how odd that we're imprisoning people indefinitely in Guantanamo without evidence we feel is credible enough to prosecute them. This sounds like something that Russia or China would do. If these guys are terrorists, as they most likely are, shouldn't there be some evidence that can be used against them? If not, how do we know we have the right people?

    February 2, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  14. Bertina

    Democrats should realize it doesn't matter how they vote, they will more than likely face a tough reelection, so why not go ahead and vote the way they were planning to vote anyway?

    February 2, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  15. Scott in Atlanta

    Democrats are such wimps. I could conceiveably be a Republican ONLY because those idiots, at the very least, can stick together and present a united front.

    Democrats fold like cheap suits at the slightest difficulty.

    February 2, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  16. Jerry

    Yes, because "Speedy" and "Cost effective" justice is the best kind, not fair and impartial.

    What is going wrong with this country? What on earth happened to this being a war of principles and ideals? What happened to our backbone?

    The second we surrender our principles by putting these suspects in front of a kangaroo court and denying them the rights we are so proud of, we've lost. We might as well wave the white flag. The terrorists want to destroy everything that America and western democracy stands for. Mission accomplished.

    February 2, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Dyan, Minnesota

    What a bunch of cowards.

    February 2, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. J. Rochester, NY

    How much further to the Right are these idiots going to go? Even Regan said to prosecute terrorists.

    I guess it is now proven if you have a psychotic media outlet that is right wing to the extreme it will shift the culture to the right. Something has to be done about this. This is crazy, we are moving backwards as a society.

    February 2, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  19. Norman Sturtevant

    The courts have handled terrorists in the past. However, these are foreign nationals who committed their crimes while in foreign countries (planning 9-11), and were captured and brought to Gitmo as, basically POW's. This is a terrible way to handle enemy combatants captured in foreign lands. The do not have or deserve the rights of Americans who commit crimes are are charged with crimes in the United States. Military tribunals are appropriate. The president is acting to placate his supporters on the far left, and the cost and risk to our country is unacceptable.

    February 2, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  20. Rick CT

    Why can't you hold a Federal Criminal Court trial on a military base? Is the actual building that necessary? That way, it's still a civilian trial but security would logistically be much easier, cost a whole lot less and not greatly inconvenience a whole ciivilian population.

    The Obama administration wanted to put on a great show by staging this in lower Manhattan. That superceded any concern of the people of Manhattan and the cost it would take to to provide the needed security.

    Only when Obama realized that he might anger enough New Yorkers that he would actually endanger his election prospects there (remember, he was also going to withhold medical payments for those who worked at ground zero after 9-11 – he reversed this, too) did he suddenly have a change of heart.

    The bipartisan opposition to his showboating idea was the most truly bipartisan action since he's taken office.

    February 2, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  21. Jordan

    obama promised a lot of things to get elected...closing Gitmo by December 2009 was just another one of his failed promises...just like Iran had until the "end of the year" to provide details on its nuclear bomb program.......this has got to be one of the worst, if not the worst president and admin ever....

    February 2, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  22. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    It must be a civilian trial because a military one would mean we are at war. We cannot be at war becuase Obama said the World would love us once he was made president.

    There is no War, no terroists, we will all have jobs soon, it's all nice. Just go back to watching reality TV shows.

    February 2, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  23. Alex

    Yes, there are un-American fascists in the Democratic Party too...

    February 2, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  24. LouAz

    Just how many Gitmo terrorists have been tried and convicted since our Constitutional Scholars Bush and Cheny began "assembling" them there ? What were the charges, verdicts, and sentences as applicable ? I'm waiting . . .

    February 2, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  25. D.U.T.C.H.

    Bedtime for Obonzo

    One detainee, David Matthew Hicks plea bargained and was sent to Australia to serve a nine-month sentence. Is this the kind of justice we'll expect out of a miliatary tribunal? OH PLEASE!!! The tribunal system is not effective.

    February 2, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
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