Staying Tough on Terror
Dealing with national security, the Obama administration is trying to stay tough on terror. But controversy over the FBI interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber, growing opposition from New York to hold the 9/11 terror trials elsewhere, and missing the self-imposed deadline to close Guantanamo Bay, have all posed significant challenges.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced late last year the trials of accused terrorists such as September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would take place in federal court in the southern district of New York, near where the World Trade Center once stood. However, it now seems likely that the White House will decide to hold the trials elsewhere.
Meanwhile, President Obama is proposing a $200 million fund to help pay for security costs in cities hosting the terror trials. The money will be included in a budget plan for 2011 of roughly $3.7 trillion that the president will submit to Congress on Monday.
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions. "We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past. We shouldn't be Mirandizing foreign terrorists. We should send them to military tribunals. $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place."
Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of "doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists."
"He's not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime," he added.
Senator Alexander also called for Attorney General Holder to testify before Congress to clarify unanswered questions about the 50 minute FBI interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. "He needs to go to Congress and say, 'I made that decision. Here's why.' And based on that, perhaps he should step down."
Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana defended the embattled Attorney General, but admitted the decision to hold terror trials in New York City "sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do."
Bayh defined three criteria to determine a location, based on "where can you try them quickly, where can you try them as inexpensively as possible, and where do you not jeopardize American security any more than absolutely necessary."
Democratic Congressman and Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen pointed out that the Bush administration also used both federal courts and military commissions to try terrorists.
"All the Obama administration has said is, 'We're going to pick the venue which most likely results in success in putting these people away.' Sometimes it's federal courts. Sometimes it's the commissions," Van Hollen reasoned.
"It's unfortunate that we see some people calling for Eric Holder to step down when he has been making the same decisions with respect to federal courts for some of the terror suspects versus military commissions, as the Bush administration did," he said calling out his Republican colleagues for playing politics on national security and terrorism.