No Civilian Trials for Gitmo Terrorists

Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Aaron Schock
Chicago Sun-Times
2/19/10

The White House can’t seem to figure out what to do with the terrorists in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, but the administration still wants the American people to cough up more than $230 million to transfer them to the Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois and an additional $200 million to pay for increased security in cities where Guantanamo detainees will go on trial in civilian courts.

On top of that, the president’s 2011 budget includes a little-noticed provision that obligates $350 million for “detainee operations.” This Gitmo slush fund comes complete with no transparency or disclosure on how the money is to be spent.

All of that amounts to a very expensive price tag for a policy that the administration seems unwilling to explain fully to the American people, most of whom remain unconvinced that the policy is in their national security interests. Furthermore, Congress has taken multiple votes both to prohibit the use of federal funds to transfer terrorists to U.S. soil and to demand a comprehensive plan from the administration.

On Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama issued three executive orders about the detention, interrogation and disposition of terrorists in the custody of the United States. One of those orders, Executive Order 13492, required a “prompt and thorough review” of the terrorists held at Guantanamo. The order also mandated consideration of all “legal, logistical and security issues relating to the potential transfer of terrorists currently detained at Guantanamo to facilities within the United States.” To lead the review, President Obama appointed Attorney General Eric Holder.

Months later, after conducting what Attorney General Holder called a “personal review of each case,” the administration announced a plan to begin transferring Guantanamo detainees — including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — to federal facilities in the United States and prosecuting them as common criminals in the federal system. On Nov. 18, 2009, Attorney General Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about this decision, telling Congress that he had “weighed every alternative.” But had he?

In recent days, mounting public pressure and bipartisan political opposition have forced the administration to reassess the closing of the Guantanamo facility and the relocation of terrorist detainees. Already the White House has failed to meet a self-imposed one-year deadline, and administration officials are signaling that New York City, the venue originally chosen for criminal trials for the terrorists, might not be the best option after all.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly apparent that decisions made by the administration in response to the thorough review ordered last year are ill-conceived and hastily announced. If a thorough review was conducted and every alternative was considered, as Attorney General Holder testified, it is difficult to understand why the administration’s policy is now subject to internal reassessment.

Either the administration’s November decision was based on a comprehensive assessment of all “legal, logistical and security issues,” or it rested on a half-baked analysis that failed to consider the full consequence of its decisions regarding the disposition of terrorist detainees. Either the Justice Department was willing to make a decision that the attorney general labeled “controversial” because it was the best option, or Americans are now witnessing an administration that makes national security decisions with a wet finger planted firmly in the political wind.

Of course, there is another possibility. It may be that the Justice Department never actually conducted the mandated assessment, but has undertaken a yearlong charade designed to distract Americans from the fact that the president’s team is more concerned about appeasing the extreme left in his own party and winning a global public relations battle than protecting the American homeland.

We oppose outright the administration’s decisions to treat terrorist detainees like common criminals, to transfer them to American soil and to try them in civilian courts. The erratic behavior and uncertain commitments of the administration do not engender confidence in the president’s ability to protect and defend the people of the United States against terrorist threats and to pursue justice for those responsible for killing thousands of Americans in the global war on terror that began on 9/11.