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. Jerry

    Who are these idiots that try to defend military tribunals by virtue of the fact that the defendants aren't US citizens?!!

    So what?

    When a foreign national is accused of a crime in the US, they don't get full legal rights and representation? Of course they do.

    February 2, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  2. Duck Fallas

    Cowards. Frightened children. Shameful pandering to the weak, hyperbolic paranoid right wing bed-wetters. Disgraceful.

    Land of the loud mouth jerk, Home of the weasel.

    February 2, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  3. Dave

    You kow, everyone was afraid that Timothy McVeigh would use his trial as a platform to expound on his beliefes. All I remember from it is that he came across as a weak minded hate monger who was put to death. These terrorists won't be allowed to get up andgrab the mike like Kanye. A fair trial and a quick hanging will show the world what a justice system is meant to be like.

    February 2, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  4. Lisa P

    The rights enshrined in our Constitution are not limited to "American citizens." Some of you patriots ought to re-read it sometime.

    As for civilian vs. military courts, it seems to me that terrorists more closely resemble criminals than soldiers. Try them as the murderers or attempted murderers or conspirators they are. Calling them "enemy combatants" (what ever the heck that means) gives them and their "cause" more respect than either deserves. Convict them on their actions, and in a fair and open court.

    February 2, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  5. Omar

    I can't believe some Americans aren't willing to give these people real trials. Military tribunals are a complete joke. Where are all the newly-minted libertarians now?

    February 2, 2010 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  6. Illinoistom

    Since the President, a former law professor, has already tainted the jury pool by saying the defendants will be executed, civil trials are out anyway. Unless you want KSM to walk on a technicality. Do the libs really want that?

    February 2, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  7. Tom

    I think there are going to be a lot of democrats opposing a lot of Obama agenda's, if they are interested in keeping their jobs that is.

    February 2, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  8. Rick in OP

    The decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try the 9/11 terrorists in New York City is sufficient grounds for Congress to demand his resignation. This is in addition to his decision to investigate/prosecute CIA operatives for interrogation techniques. And, lets not forget it was Holders decision to treat the Christmas Day attempted bomber as a civilian rather than as an enemy combatant. After one year in office Holder’s incompetence is glaring.
    If the Obama Administration insists on holding trials for the 9/11 terrorists in the United States, I suggest they change the venue to Alabama or Texas.

    February 2, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    Interfering with Executive Branch power much?

    Whether the money is there or not, Obama can still order them tried in the US. That's a FACT. If this is an attempt to make it unpopular by pitting our country's founding principles of inalienable human rights, innocence until proven guilty, justice, etc., against the anger about spending and debt...sorry, but I'm afraid Obama will still make the choice to try these people here, as well he should.

    Congress has not declared war on terrorism AND CAN'T. It's nothing more than fluff rhetoric like the "war on drugs" and "war on crim" and "war on poverty." How about a "war on stupid," and we all wage it against the demogogues and malcontents who think this country abandon all that defines our society just because someone who gains political advantage from making you afraid told you to be afraid? Who's the REAL coward: the torturer and human rights abuser who justifies it with their fear, or the person who refuses to bend and is willing to die for what we say we believe in? Abandoning it all just cheapens the deaths of all who died to protect it...and the service of those who are in foreign lands right now fighting to do so, while we put it all aside here at home out of fear. Sissies.

    February 2, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. Fed Up

    Wait a second! Weren't they all behind him regarding this issue until Kennedy's seat was lost??? Is this another campaign slogan?

    February 2, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  11. Wisconsonite

    I'm ashamed to call them fellow Democrats.

    February 2, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  12. donttreadonme

    Why have a public 200,000 million dollar trial to come to the same conclusion that a $1 bullet will! If the military court is good enough for our soldiers then it is good enough for this scum!

    February 2, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  13. Obama mama

    Holder needs to be canned.

    This administration has made so many stupid decisions that it is hard to keep track. Holder is also that same guy that call Americans cowards (based on his view of racism).

    February 2, 2010 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  14. Wisconsonite

    "The decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try the 9/11 terrorists in New York City is sufficient grounds for Congress to demand his resignation"

    Ok . . . you win in my opion, for the most irrational, stupid comment I've seen on the ticker today. Congratulations, dummy.

    February 2, 2010 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  15. donttreadonme

    You ever notice liberals are really big on protecting the Constitutional rights of killers, murders and child rapists but balk when it comes to protecting the most innocent and vulnerable.

    February 2, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  16. p

    Well said Snifit – you are in rare form today.

    I am convinced more then ever by the retarded Republican menions, (no offencse intended to those who are born with limited mental reasoning capabilities) that repeat the obsurd retoric pummped out by Faux friends and the like, That we must never let Republicans regain power.

    February 2, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  17. JT the Show Me State College Freshman

    I think that giving them a fair trial in a civilian court is the right thing to do; I do think that these terrorists are scums and horrible individuals, but even scums and horrible people deserve a fair trial where they can get convicted, prosecuted, and punished effectively and harshly in a lawful way. Besides, ask yourselves this question: Who will the world join sides with? A nation that gives terrorists fair trials and goes by the laws of their consitution, or a nation that tortures it's enemies and treats them unlawfully and cruel? I think all of you know the answer to this. Senators, it is up to you to pick which option you choose, but realize that actions have consequences. What type of consequences do you senators want to see? Ask yourselves that question senator.

    February 2, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  18. Mj

    Who cares.... Bush tried and convicted hundreds of terrorists in US criminal courts, and placed them in US federal prisons and we didn't hear a peep from "conservatives" on that one.

    Pure Partisan Politics.

    February 2, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    " if they are interested in keeping their jobs that is."

    Right. Because that's the No. 1 priority...not actually DOING the job of upholding the Constitution, our values or the law. Have you not been paying attention? Throwing sound objective judgment, good sense and consideration of the law out the door solely to pander for re-election is PRECISELY what is wrong with our political system. And don't say "well, Nobama is doing just that by bringing them here to try them"...WRONG...it's not popular and is a convenient political target. He's making a principled decision even though the pantwetters are wizzing up a storm over it.

    February 2, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  20. Debbie

    We did Not officially declare war on Iraq or Afganistan and thus the rules of war do not apply. At that point we could have tried these people in military court. We've tried many in civil courts and should do so. To try them in military courts opens up the opportunity for our soldiers to incur the same (or worse) treatment in places where we have troops but not officially declared war. People saying they don't want those people here because they would have to pay for them do not realize that part of the military budget goes just for that. You have been paying for them and because those tax dollars are mired in a deep secret spending pot you don't even know what your paying for. Try them in an open civil court for the world to see democracy in action and for the tax payer to see where their dollars are going!

    February 2, 2010 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  21. Orange Curtain, CA

    Lieberman hardly matters. Quit being so wimpy and do the trial already cowards.

    February 2, 2010 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  22. Mike in MN

    If Obama can get one Senator to vote with the Dems on a bill or get a few Republican amendments on a bill he calls it bipartisian. But you can bet that even though there a some Democrats opposing domestic terror trials, Obama will claim that the oppositon is just Republican. How do I know, because he already has and because he talks like just Republicans oppose Obamacare and cap and trade when in fact a lot of Democrats do also.

    February 2, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  23. donttreadonme

    Of course a bunch of anti-military libs would be against Military courts duh? The benefit of the Military court is it is not made into a public spectacle. It is also cost effective and would prevent us from having to transport terrorist. But like the libs say terrorist are not the enemy fellow Americans are!

    February 2, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  24. p

    Well said Sniffit – you are in rare form today.

    I am convinced more then ever by the retarded Republican minions repeating the absurd rhetoric pumped out by Faux friends and the like, that we must NEVER let Republicans regain power.

    (no offence intended to those who are born with limited mental reasoning capabilities 🙂 )

    February 2, 2010 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  25. Mike in MN

    The decision by Obama and Holder to try terrorists in domestic courts shows just how stupid they are. Their only motivation was that the details of the trials might embarass Bush. The American people have different priorities like keep our nation safe and not wasting money when the terrorists could be kept in Gitmo and tried in military trials for a lot less money. Obama is an idiot.

    February 2, 2010 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
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