2 Dems Support Bill to Axe Funding of Civilian Terrorist Trials

Trying the 9/11 co-conspirators, including Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed, in federal, civilian court just got a bit harder. Support for trying these men in New York City has been dwindling, and some reports indicate the site has been scrapped, though the Administration contends NYC is still a viable option.

Now legislation has resurfaced that would shut off funding for civilian trials altogether, only this time it has Democratic support. Sens. Jim Webb, D-VA, and Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, have joined the fight to deny the funds, making it harder for such trials to continue.

On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, an Army Reserves JAG officer, will be joined by Lincoln (Webb could attend, says a spokeswoman, but he might be stuck in hearings) and his usual group of colleagues on national security matters, Sens. Joe Lieberman, a self-styled 'Independent Democrat", and John McCain, R-AZ, to unveil their bill. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, a co-sponsor, will also attend.

A Graham spokesman says the senators "will offer it as an amendment to the first thing we can get it on." It is unclear what the next piece of legislation will be to hit the floor, but Democrats are pulling together a jobs bill that they hope to bring to the floor in the coming days.

A Reid spokesman declined comment.

As a former Navy secretary and key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Webb is a crucial vote of support for the bill.

But neither he nor Lincoln are surprise comers to the legislation. Both voted with Republicans for a similar Graham-McCain-Lieberman measure last year that failed after 54 Democrats voted to kill it. Sens Mark Pryor, D-AR, and Maria Cantwell, D-WA, voted, at the time, in support of the measure, as well.

And Webb, along with Lincoln, who is facing a difficult re-election in 2010, signed onto a recent letter with the same group to "strongly urge" Attorney General Eric Holder to "reconsider your decision to try (KSM) and the other alleged conspirators in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The attacks of 9/11 were acts of war, and those who planned and carried out those attacks are war criminals."

The senators warn in the letter that holding trials in New York, or another city like Washington, DC, or in Northern Virginia, where a previous terrorist trial was held, brings an "increased risk of terrorist attacks." The group makes clear that they favor enemy combatants being tried in military commissions.

"Given the risks and costs, it is far more logical, cost-effective, and strategically wise to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the military commissions that Congress and the President have now established for that very purpose," the senators said to Holder.

All of this comes in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber, the so-called "underwear bomber," being mirandized after less than an hour in U.S. custody. Many senators, regardless of party, decried that decision.

The bipartisan group would still seem to be short of the votes needed to defeat a motion to "table" or kill the legislation, however, should Democratic leaders choose to employ the same procedure they did last year, but with the election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is expected to be seated next week, there is momentum that could imperil the Administration’s intentions.

Brown made clear in his acceptance speech in January that he does not support civilian trials for alleged terrorists. Brown cried to a cheering crowd, "Our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation. They do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. Let me make it very, very, very clear: they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in war time...In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”


The President's budget, released Monday, has a $200 million terrorist trial fund, originally requested by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, according to a senior Democratic aide, when the trials were to take place in New York City.