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. IVOTE

    These turncoats are making sure they do NOT get support from the Democrats who put them in office.

    February 2, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  2. Orange Curtain, CA

    Blanche Lincoln is a complete useless tool. She along with Landrieu, Nelson and Lieberman should switch to the Republican party, traitors.

    February 2, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  3. Arlene, Illinois

    If they move the trials out of New York the terrorists win!
    Lieberman is a running joke.

    February 2, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. chenna benna

    What is that I smell in the air? Oh, just blue dog DEMS soiling themselves because they are in an election year and have to make tough decisions.

    February 2, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  5. Tom

    This political correctness had GOT to stop. Our country doesn't have $200 million a year to waste on this trial. If it turns out to be a long trial, which it will, that is a huge amount of money for us taxpayers to absorb. We have the perfect place in Gitmo. Everything is already there. It is secure. Let the military handle it. Lets get a grip on reality as a country. PS, the world hates us anyway even after all we have done for them. Does anyone really think a trial is going to make any difference?

    February 2, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  6. John, Brooklyn, NY

    Sadly, we now know what the price tag is that leads our elected officials to determine that our system of laws and due process is too expensive. I wonder what our other civil liberties will go for?

    February 2, 2010 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  7. Pete

    The problem with reflexively using military courts to try civilian terror suspects is what do you do when the suspect is an American civilian? The Civil War era Milligan case clearly states that American civilians can't be tried by military tribunal. When Bush attempted to do this to Jose Padilla, he ignored the Milligan case, and was eventually shot down by the SC.

    February 2, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  8. Tom

    Sasha "Their only motivation was that the details of the trials might embarass Bush. " You are so far out there the buses don't run if you honestly think that's what's causing this debate. Come on. Pull yourself together and do some thinking for yourself. Quit listening to the liberal chatter.

    February 2, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  9. Willy Brown

    Democrats are going down in flames in November. Thank you pResident Obama!

    February 2, 2010 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  10. Exasperated

    Oh for heavens sake....these people are criminals and can be tried in our federal courts. Whoever you are get a backbone and put our laws into action and try them legally in our courts. Our courts are well equipped to handle such trials. We all teach our children (supposedly) that "2 wrongs don't make a right" and "obey the law". Well we should certainly do the same and handle things legally. It is the reason so many people came to these shores....they did not have to worry about being brought before some tribunal and sentenced to death out of hand. Act like Americans and the America so much of the world has admired throughout the years.

    February 2, 2010 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  11. Stop blaming Bush

    For all of you saying Bush did it,,, do your homework. Check the facts.

    Bush wanted detainees imprisoned at Gitmo military commissions. June 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the power of the Bush administration to conduct military tribunals for anyone at Gitmo.

    As far as I am concerned, try them anywhere you want. My complaint is, they should get public defender, and it should not cost taxpayers a DIME.

    February 2, 2010 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  12. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    How Clintonesque!
    It's funny how many democrats are "moving to the center", sounding more and more like republicans in an election year. That's the real difference: the republicans govern with a belief in doing what's right, while the democrats govern while keeping a close eye on the polls.

    February 2, 2010 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  13. They call me "tater salad"

    She's only against it now because she's on the verge of losing an election and she knows it!!!!!!!!Can you say political posturing??????

    February 2, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  14. Ivan

    Hey, Democrats get a backbone, show that you can govern,quit running scared everytime the Republicans and their minions yell boo.
    There will be no problem with having the trials in our country.
    The greatest threat to America is not the external enemy it is the enemy from within. Under the guise of national security, and of keeping us safe, the Republicans want to re-write the U.S. Constitution.
    The Republicans have choosen fear to accomplish that goal.
    The Republicans have made fear their mantra.

    February 2, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  15. ib

    Finally some democrats that actually have some common sense on something like this. These so called trials will be nothing but a dog and pony show to allow liberals to keep bashing Bush. Glad to see some people have enough sense to see this for what it really is.

    February 2, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  16. Zac, ATL

    If we are at war, then why doesn't Congress declare one? Or if they want the American justice system to set up a new designation for terrorists, why don't they make it?

    Instead, whoever is in the executive branch (presidents, prosecutors, attorney generals) gets to make it up as they go along. Talk about judicial activism and legislating from the bench. I though Republicans were against such things.

    February 2, 2010 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  17. Captain Awesome

    Democrats were all in favor of a trial for KSM in New York before the polls showed decreasing support for this. Now the dems have a new opinion to reflect the latest polls. These guys have NO core beliefs and convictions unless they've been properly polled and focus-grouped. Chumps.

    Real change in November!

    February 2, 2010 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  18. Total BS

    Put a sock in it Joe and go live in the country you love most !!!

    February 2, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  19. Jimmy James

    Oh please get over " These people deserve fair trials ". Obama and his staff have already declared them guilty and say they will be executed. They aren't even pretending that they are " alledged" or saying " innocent till proven guilty". They can hold a federal court at Gitmo. They don't to be on our soil. Have the trials at Gitmo, problem solved. Gitmo is a federal facility.

    February 2, 2010 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  20. Carole

    NOW this is a shocker!!!!! Turncoat, Blue Dawg Lincoln bought and paid for by the healthcare industry saying something against the Administration. Who knew? Arkansas needs to run a REAL Dem next time.

    Funny how Bloomberg Flip Flopped and Musawi trial was there amoung others. Strange.

    February 2, 2010 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  21. Pounder

    An aside to Bob Casey re: this issue. You were elected as an intelligent bearer of fairness and for upholding the rule of law. Your president , rightly, understands that the best way for the world to see these qualities in our legal system and the best opportunity for justice is for these trials to go forward Now. IT IS OVER 9 YEARS !! I expect that you will continue to support our president.

    February 2, 2010 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  22. Pat Garthwaite

    Remember, John McCain also wanted to close Gitmo. NYC has the best security in the world. We have the best justice system in the world. It's where the crime took place. Elevating these looney-toon homocidal maniacs to a position equal to Germany or Japan in WWII was nuts then and it's nuts now. Treat terror suspects fairly, and make sure that as much of the trial as possible is broadcast to the world. Let countries who have never known justice see how it's done. That will be far more powerful than any bomb we have.

    February 2, 2010 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  23. annie against biased news

    obama will do anything he can to get these terrorist set free being the good muslim that he is.

    February 2, 2010 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  24. Obama White House is Incompetent

    Obama, and his entire administration, are looking more and more incompetent by the day. This is getting scary.

    February 2, 2010 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  25. davis harbour oregon's water is poisoned

    didn't the whitehouse already say that they will be convicted and executed? how can they get a fair trial? this is going to be a disaster.

    this whole stunt is a total joke and an attempt to embaress bush. take KSM out back with some bullets and bacon.

    another question, how can we send drones into other countries and kill these scumbags, without a trial to see if they are guilty first?

    February 2, 2010 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
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