Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) said that by opposing military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and by advocating for the release of photographs of torture committed upon detainees, the American Civil Liberties Union is "tearing down the United States," during a heated debate with the ACLU's executive director, on Face the Nation Sunday.
The Obama administration's decision to go forward with the trials of terror suspects held at Gitmo, and to try to block the declassification of photographs of abuse, were flashpoints this week, with the president being accused by some of reneging on campaign promises to roll back the Bush administration's policies on interrogation and the shutdown of the American prison at Guantanamo Bay.
To make his point, King evoked the loss of 9/11: "To see this great compassion and concern that Mr. Romero and the ACLU have for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others, and the venom they have towards presidents of the United States, I wish that was reversed a bit."
In response, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said that he thinks President Obama is "being ill-informed" when making the decision not to release pictures depicting torture and abuse of detainees — photos a court had declared must be released, and which Mr. Obama had previously said he would allow.
Romero said despite the White House's attempt to revamp the tribunal system created under President Bush, that "there is no way to resurrect" the trial system at Guantanamo, which he called a "debacle of justice."
Romero said going forward with the military tribunals will actually delay justice, due to partisan squabbling on Congress over legislative changes and further litigation by defendants over the rules of the tribunal. "This is not going to render swift justice for the 9/11 families or for anyone," he said.
He also said the trials should be under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, not the Defense Department — "the same Department of Defense that authorized, enabled and allowed torture to occur. It lacks the credibility to undertake that effort.
"We have the best system of justice in the world, and rather than jerry-rig or fix an already broken system, we ought to use the one that works," he told host Harry Smith.
"It's like a toxic waste dump," Romero said of tribunals. "You can't just build a new house on a toxic waste dump; you have to move the house. And we have the best system of justice. Our courts are well-equipped to handle this."
King argued that to try Guantanamo detainees on United States soil is "insanity … it just won't work," and advocated for the tribunals. He also called the president's decision to close Guantanamo Bay by next January a mistake, and said he expects Mr. Obama will reverse that order. "I think he's going to keep it open at least until we find out where [the suspects] can go.
"He made a mistake by setting an arbitrary deadline, as they're realizing how dangerous this is to be releasing dangerous people into the United States, into a court system that cannot accommodate them."
In response, Romero said that by American legal standards, "You do not change the rules to have a pre-ordained outcome."
King argued that the military tribunals at Gitmo give "more rights to defendants than were given at Nuremburg."
He charged the ACLU with committing "libel" by accusing the military of committing torture, and claimed that what abuses there were, were not sanctioned by higher chains of command in the Bush administration.
"It is absolutely wrong to say this was approved at the highest levels of government," he said.
More from Face The Nation (5.17.09):
To watch Peter King and Anthony Romero's debate click on the video player below.
To watch a discussion on the selection of a new Supreme Court Justice with CBS News political consultant John Dickerson and Joan Biskupic of USA Today click on the video player below.