A group of bipartisan senators today announced their support for a bill to effectively stop the government from prosecuting 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a criminal court, a move Sen. Joe Lieberman called "Alice in Wonderland" justice.
Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, along with some Democratic and Republican senators are supporting legislation from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) that would cut off funding for the trials of the Sept. 11 conspirators. President Obama's proposed 2011 budget includes $73 million for the Justice Department to transfer, prosecute and incarcerate five Guantanamo Bay detainees slated to stand trial in criminal court for their alleged roles in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We're not fighting a crime, we're fighting a war," Graham said at a press conference today. "To criminalize this war puts our nation at risk."
The Obama administration's plans to try the Guantanamo Bay prisoners on U.S. soil have come under increased scrutiny.
"I do not question [Mr. Obama's] motives, I question his judgment," Graham said.
Lieberman advocated using the "power of the purse" to stop the trials, which he called "Alice in Wonderland" justice.
"These people are war criminals," Lieberman said. "As such, they should be tried as war criminals."
Graham and the supporters of his legislation said they advocated trying the prisoners by military commission, a process Graham called transparent, well-staffed, subject to review and "built around the view we have been, and are now continuing to be, a nation at war." By contrast he said a criminal trial would be "unnecessarily dangerous, messy, confusing and expensive."
Democratic Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) said that "these people view themselves as soldiers and should be tried that way."
Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) added that "giving them a public stage to advocate their cause has the potential to compromise national intelligence."
The Obama administration's decision has the support of some Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), who in a statement today said federal courts have proven time and again that they are capable of handling terrorism cases.
"I do not, and will not, support measures that will tie the hands of law enforcement and other security agencies as they move to bring these criminals to justice," Leahy said. "Our courts, our legal system, and our prisons repeatedly have shown they are up to the task. Rather than playing politics with these questions or cowering from criminals, we should trust in the proven successes of a criminal justice system that has become the envy of the world."
Graham said his bill was not about playing politics. He said that he and other Republicans were equally critical of some counterterrorism tactics used by the Bush administration, such as withholding evidence from the accused.
"I'm trying to find a way forward that makes sense," Graham said. "It makes no sense to capture someone fresh off the battlefield and within 50 minutes read them their Miranda rights."