Republican leader slams Obama over terrorism case

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 18, 2010 3:24pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans criticized the Obama administration on Thursday for pursuing terrorism cases in federal court after a jury acquitted a man once held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on almost all of the charges related to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

Obama administration officials countered that the suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, had been convicted on a key terrorism charge and would be sentenced to at least two decades in prison.

The officials argued that the verdict showed that the federal courts could handle major terrorism cases and they pledged to continue pursuing such cases.

Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian from Zanzibar, had been accused of conspiring in the al Qaeda bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

While accused of 285 counts of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy, he was only convicted by a jury of one count of conspiring to damage or destroy U.S. property. Ghailani will face a minimum of 20 years in prison and possibly the maximum life in prison.

"Yesterday's acquittal in a federal court ... is all the proof we need that the administration's approach to prosecuting terrorists has been deeply misguided and indeed potentially harmful as a matter of national security," Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor.

The case was widely considered a test case for President Barack Obama's policy of prosecuting key terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison in traditional U.S. criminal courts rather than special military commissions.

Republicans and some of Obama's fellow Democrats have demanded that terrorism suspects held at the island military prison be prosecuted in military tribunals because they are "enemy combatants" who had attacked or plotted against the United States.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb also said that the verdict showed that those charged with crimes of war should not be prosecuted in federal courts but in military trials.

The military commissions balance "robust procedural and substantive rights for the defendants, including prohibiting the introduction of evidence obtained through torture, against the reality that these are not common criminals but violators of the law of war," Webb said.


But the Justice Department said the conviction of Ghailani and a 20-plus year prison sentence was proof that the federal courts could handle such cases and that the Obama administration would continue pursuing cases in both federal and military courts.

"We're going to continue to work through these cases, we're going to bring them to trial in federal courts and military commissions where appropriate ... to obtain justice for victims," department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

He declined to comment on what would happen with cases put on hold, including against the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The White House had to halt a planned criminal trial in New York amid criticism that he should be prosecuted in a military trial.

Few expect that Mohammed will be tried in a federal court and Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives could also complicate the administration's attempts to prosecute terrorism cases in federal court.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham renewed his call for a deal with the White House on a comprehensive approach over how to prosecute terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo prison and those detained in the future.

"We need a breakthrough pretty quickly, I think we're on borrowed time," Graham told reporters after speaking at the Justice Department.

He said he has discussed a hybrid system with Attorney General Eric Holder that would allow some criminal trials of some terrorism suspects but military trials should be pursued for major figures, including Mohammed.

"When it comes to KSM (Mohammed), if he's not an enemy combatant, then who would be?" Graham said.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Bill Trott and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (3)
Stupidscript wrote:
Who cares about the law, right guys? Lock ‘em ALL up for LIFE, because obviously our stupid “normal” justice system can’t do the right thing, right guys? We no longer hold “prosoners of war”, but rather “enemy combatants” who deserve to be in prison until they’re dead, right guys?

John McCain, are you even listening? Under your pals’ rules, you’d still be neck deep in Vietnamese filth, instead of having been released under the rules of war that you now reject!

POWs are POWs, and the rules of war MUST be respected, in this regard, or else OUR soldiers will be treated with disdain, just like THEIR soldiers are being treated by us. “Enemy combatants” is just a convenient media label to satisfy the right wing desire for revenge.

Nov 18, 2010 3:58pm EST  --  Report as abuse
jakej wrote:
what an outrage, to think the Feds might actually have to produce some evidence to convict someone as a terrorist. Secret courts are much less embarrassing.

Nov 18, 2010 4:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Trooth wrote:

Unfortunately the rules of war doesn’t apply to ununiformed combatants that are not fighting under a flag. Under the Geneva convention if we have a non uniformed intelligence officer caught in another country they can be executed and that is perfectly lawful.

What is your solution? Release the terrorists so we can pick them up again in Afghanistan taking pop shots at our troops. That is what has happened several times with Guitmo prisoners who have been released. POWs aren’t generally released until after a war is over or a deal is made between two sides. Unfortunately in a war against terrorism, that war will never end, and there is no other country that we can deal with for a release of our prisoners.

I believe Sharia law believes in an eye for an eye. How about we just behead them, put it on tape, and then put that on the internet for their families to see. These are not POWs, they do not fight for a country or a government recognized by the UN or the Geneva convention. These are dispicable outlaws who spray acid in girls faces for not following their brand of religion. You can not make peace with these extremists. They want you and me dead. They despise the left, and hollywood, and liberals more than anything else. I am amazed that people still don’t understand the threat that we face, nor the tactics of our enemy.

Nov 18, 2010 5:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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