Tue, Mar 09, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US senator urges shift on terror trials

STATS A civil liberties group says the US criminal justice system has successfully handled more than 300 terrorism cases compared to three in military tribunals


A Republican senator is offering the White House a deal on terror trials.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says that if the president agrees to try alleged Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accused accomplices in military tribunals, he will press fellow Republicans to vote to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Graham, interviewed on Sunday on CBS television’s Face the Nation, says reversing Attorney-General Eric Holder’s plan to try the suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City would be seen as an act of leadership by the public.

The White House is reviewing Holder’s plan and no new recommendation has been presented to the president. A decision is not expected for several weeks.

Beyond Mohammed’s case, Graham also said a new legal framework is needed to deal with the most dangerous detainees still held at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee, but also understands they didn’t rob a liquor store,” he said.

Closing Guantanamo was a key promise that US President Barack Obama made when he took office, but it remains unfulfilled as he battles pressure from both sides of the political aisle. Most Republicans says it’s a mistake to shutter the prison and hold trials in US civilian courts while Obama’s Democratic allies say closing Guantanamo down is a vital step in remaking the US’ image abroad.

In a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says if Obama fails to back Holder, he will be extending the policies of the administration of former US president George W. Bush. The ad shows an image of Obama on the left and in subsequent panels moving to the right the image morphs into a portrait of Bush, who set up Guantanamo for suspected terrorists.

“As president, Barack Obama must decide whether to keep his solemn promise to restore our Constitution and due process, or ignore his vow and continue the Bush-Cheney policies,” the ad states.

The ACLU says the US criminal justice system has successfully handled more than 300 terrorism cases compared to three in military tribunals.

The White House did not plan to respond to the ACLU ad.

“He’s getting beat up badly from the left, but the ACLU theory of how to manage this war I think is way off base,” Graham said.

“And those who want to waterboard on the right and believe that we should keep [Guantanamo] open forever and use any technique to get information, I think they’re equally off base,” he said.

Graham said he will need help from senior military officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and former Bush administration officials.

“I can’t do it by myself,” he said. “I’m going to need people from the Bush administration to try to close [Guantanamo], to put aside partisanship, rally around this president, stand by his side and say, ‘Let’s close Gitmo safely,’” he said.

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