Republicans Threaten to Block Terror Trials

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 18, 2009

(by Stephen Dinan and Kara Rowland, WashingtonTimes.com) – House Republicans say they’ll make Democrats feel the political heat for President Obama’s decision to try Sept. 11 attack plotters in U.S. civilian courts by trying to force a vote on a bill to block those trials.

Republicans will launch a discharge petition — which means if a majority of House members sign on, then the bill would automatically be brought to the floor for a vote, despite the objections of Democratic leaders who control the chamber’s schedule.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the Obama administration’s decision to move 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks from the Guantanamo Bay detention site to civilian courts in the United States shows Democrats are “out of touch.”

“It really begs the question of what is the administration’s overarching strategy to fight the terrorists and keep Americans safe. We haven’t seen that overarching strategy yet,” Mr. Boehner said.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, will sponsor the petition, Mr. Boehner said.

If successful, the petition would force a vote on the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act,” which would require that a governor and state legislature approve any transfer of a suspected terrorist from Guantanamo to their state.

The Senate already debated this issue earlier this month. On a 54-45 vote, senators gave the green light to Mr. Obama to go ahead with civilian trials for the Sept. 11 plotters.

Attorney General Eric Holder last week announced the decision to hold the U.S. trials.

Mr. Holder and his backers say U.S. courts have shown they can handle the cases, and say the Sept. 11 attackers should not be dignified with military commission trials, which would elevate them to the level of warriors.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he thinks there’s bipartisan support for Mr. Holder’s decision, pointing to a letter from three conservative leaders who defended civilian trials as the right legal venue to hear the cases.

But Mr. Boehner and other opponents say the terrorists don’t deserve the same rights as U.S. citizens, and worry that holding civilian trials signals a return to the 1990s when the threat from al Qaeda was treated as a criminal matter, not a war. They also argue that sensitive intelligence information could be revealed in court trials and that the accused could use the trials as a propaganda exercise.

The last successful discharge petition was in 2001, when Republicans and Democrats joined together to force a vote on overhauling campaign finance rules over the objections of Republican leaders who controlled the chamber at the time.

Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. What is a discharge petition?

2. For what reason are Republicans in the House of Representatives launching a discharge petition?

3. What is the name of the proposed Republican Bill? What would it do?

4. When was the last time a discharge petition succeeded?

5. a) How does President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder’s opinion on trying terrorists as civilians differ from that of Republican leader Rep. John Boehner?
b) Which argument makes more sense to you? Why?

6. Read the following statements made by Thomas Sowell in a commentary posted at RealClearPolitics.com.  What do you think of his arguments?

The last time an attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a matter of domestic criminal justice was after a bomb was exploded there in 1993. Under the rules of American criminal law, the prosecution had to turn over all sorts of information to the defense– information that told the Al Qaeda international terrorist network what we knew about them and how we knew it. This was nothing more and nothing less than giving away military secrets to an enemy in wartime– something for which people have been executed, as they should have been. Secrecy in warfare is a matter of life and death.

How many Americans may pay with their lives for the intelligence secrets and methods that can forced to be disclosed to Al Qaeda was not mentioned. Nor was there mention of how many foreign nations and individuals whose cooperation with us in the war on terror have been involved in countering Al Qaeda– nor how many foreign nations and individuals will have to think twice now, before cooperating with us again, when their role can be revealed in court to our enemies, who can exact revenge on them.

OPTIONAL: Do you support or oppose civilian trials for terrorists? Email your representative in Congress asking him/her to support or oppose the discharge petition on “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act.” When expressing your opinion, remember to be clear, concise and polite.
–To contact your representative, go to www.House.gov.


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Background

The current system of military commissions was originally designed to provide quick justice in ways that denied defendants the opportunities for propaganda available in the defendant-friendly civilian system. (Jack Goldsmith, aei.org)

Resources

A discharge petition is an exception to the normal process for how a bill becomes a law.  Read the steps for how a bill becomes a law at bensguide.gpo.gov/9-12/lawmaking/index.html.

Read a commentary opposing civilian trials for terrorists at realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/11/17/are_we_at_war_or_not.html.