Florida Republicans Back Military Trials for Terrorists
Around the State
More than nine years after the 9/11 attacks, two Florida Republicans in Congress, both of whom are receiving some attention as possible candidates to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, introduced measures on how the United States tries captured terrorists.
Responding to the Obama administration, which has backed holding civilian trials for terrorists, on Wednesday U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan introduced the “Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act” which would have captured terrorists tried as enemy combatants in military court instead of facing criminal charges.
“The American people are outraged that foreign terrorists who have declared war on America are being tried in civilian courts,” insisted Buchanan, who introduced a similar measure in previous sessions. “Terrorists with ties to known terror organizations such as al-Qaida should not be afforded the same constitutional protections as American citizens, nor should sensitive homeland security and intelligence information be publicized in open, civilian court proceedings.
“Using military tribunals to interrogate, prosecute, and sentence foreign terrorists who conspire, attempt, or attack the United States and its people is a far better way to handle these kinds of sensitive matters,” added Buchanan. “Military tribunals protect U.S. intelligence sources and methods from being revealed in open court.”
Buchanan announced on Wednesday that key members of the Republican leadership -- namely U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon of California who chairs the Armed Services Committee, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan who leads the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas who chairs the House Judiciary Committee -- are all co-sponsoring the bill. On Wednesday, the three committee chairmen weighed in.
“Foreign terrorists are just that, foreign citizens who terrorize the United States – not common criminals,” said Rogers. “They are not entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens and should be treated as such. Congressman Buchanan’s bill ensures that they are treated as enemy combatants who are interrogated for valuable intelligence and tried in military tribunals, not U.S. civilian courts.”
“Rep. Buchanan’s efforts will make our country safer,” insisted McKeon. “Terrorists who are engaged in a war against America must be treated as enemy combatants -- not common criminals -- and should be prosecuted in accordance with the laws of warfare.”
“The first Gitmo detainee trial in civilian courts was a near disaster,” noted Smith. “Though Ahmed Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies, he was convicted of only one count out of 285 charges. And the case isn’t over yet. Because Ghailani was acquitted of terrorism and murder charges, his attorneys will try to overturn the conspiracy verdict on appeal.
“Terrorists are enemy combatants, not common criminals,” continued Smith. “They commit acts of war against the American people, not crimes. They should be tried at military commissions, not in civilian courts where they have access to the same rights as U.S. citizens. The Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act makes sure that foreign terrorists are tried in military tribunals, not civilian courts. Military tribunals have served the nation well since the Revolutionary War and we should continue to use them.”
Buchanan is not the only member of the Florida delegation to take up the issue.
On Monday, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney brought out the “Detainee Trials at Gitmo Act” mandating all captured terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay face military trials at that base.
“Military commissions are fair and provide due process for the accused, but they also protect critical intelligence officials and evidence,” said Rooney. “Foreign terrorists should absolutely not receive the same rights and privileges as American citizens do.
“The constitutional and legal standards for evidence-gathering and prosecution in a civilian case are simply not adequate for the trial of an enemy combatant,” added Rooney, pointing to his background as JAG attorney and as instructor of constitutional law at West Point. “As a former military prosecutor, I strongly believe that trying detainees in military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay is the best way to hold terrorists accountable, keep them out of the United States, and prevent them from rejoining the fight.”
Rooney and Buchanan have both received some buzz as potential candidates to take on Nelson in 2012. Other Republicans who are considering running include former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, businessman Mike McCalister and businessman Nick Loeb.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.