WASHINGTON – Chuck Grassley today continued questioning the Obama administration’s decisions to bring the Guantanamo terrorist detainees to the United States to house and potentially try in civilian courts.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Grassley highlighted the $500 million in total requests that the President submitted to Congress in his annual budget for the Guantanamo detainees. The half billion dollar request also includes $15 million to pay for public defenders for the terrorists.
“Given the current fiscal constraints facing the federal government, the President could help the American people’s anxiety with many of his budget and national security decisions by holding the trials by military commission at the existing facilities built at Guantanamo Bay and saving half a billion dollars,” Grassley said. “To spend our taxpayer dollars to defend these terrorists in our courts is a slap in the face to the American people.”
The President’s budget includes $73 million for the Department of Justice to prosecute the terrorists in civilian courts; $237 million to purchase, renovate, and staff the Thomsen Correctional Center; $200 million for state and local security costs associated with criminal trials; and $22.1 million for the federal Judiciary for court security and public defenders for the terrorists.
Grassley also asked for answers from Attorney General Eric Holder during a November oversight hearing about the lawyers working on policy related to the Guantanamo detainees at the Justice Department. During the hearing the Attorney General told Grassley that he would only consider his request. Grassley finally received a written response from the Justice Department that failed to answer his simple questions.
“It’s important that the American people know who is advising the Attorney General and the President on these decisions and what predilections they may have—especially in light of the Attorney General’s recent comments that civilian trials for the 9/11 conspirators are still on the table,” Grassley said.
Here is a copy of the text of Grassley’s letter to the President.
February 24, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a senior member of the United States Senate and a senior member of the Committee on the Judiciary, I have been monitoring the troubling developments surrounding your Administration’s counterterrorism policies. I have watched as your Administration announced sweeping policies that impact our national security, such as: the Executive Order to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base by January 22, 2010; the decision to move known al Qaeda terrorist detainees to U.S. soil and house them at a facility in Thomson, Illinois; the decision to provide Miranda rights to the Christmas Day bomber—Umar Farouck Abdulmutallab; and, most importantly, the decision to try the 9/11 plotters and conspirators in an Article III civilian court in New York City. I am concerned that these decisions, and the subsequent decisions by the Administration to reverse course, have and will continue to weaken our national security. I’m writing today in response to the recent reports that you will be working to help select a new forum for the trial of the accused mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and his co-conspirators.
On November 13, 2009, Attorney General Holder announced, with much fanfare, that the Department of Justice (Department) would seek to prosecute those who conspired to commit the 9/11 attacks in a New York City federal court. This decision to charge the five Al Qaeda terrorists who conspired and planned the 9/11 attacks as criminals in a civilian Article III court is perplexing. There are a number of problems with this decision, including: providing unprivileged enemy belligerents a venue to spew their hateful rhetoric; creating new public terrorist targets out of our federal courthouses; the increased security costs estimated by your own FY2011 budget plan to exceed $200 million just for additional security; providing non-U.S. citizen terrorists constitutional protections associated with criminal prosecutions; and providing terrorists more rights than our military men and women when they are subject to a court-martial. Additionally, Attorney General Holder also referred some detainees who are charged with attacking the U.S.S. Cole back to the Department of Defense for trial via military commission.
In splitting the prosecutions into two categories, it appears that the Attorney General has created a system which allows the terrorist to select the forum for justice by simply choosing to select a civilian or military target.
There is an urgent need for you to make a decision on where to try the 9/11 conspirators. Three weeks ago, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the possibility of an attempted terrorist attack in the United States within the next three to six months was “certain”. This view shared by both the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Based upon the testimony, your Administration’s intelligence officials believe that an attempted terrorist attack is “certain” in the near term. Given this prediction and the events of Christmas Day, it is imperative that the decision on how to proceed with terrorist prosecutions be made expeditiously and with a focus on protecting those involved in the trial as well as the surrounding communities.
Further, it is also necessary for Congress to have some certainty about how your Administration plans to proceed with the prosecutions given the upcoming debate on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. The proposed FY2011 President’s Budget that was provided to Congress this month includes a number of new spending proposals related to the trial of the 9/11 conspirators. Specifically, your budget includes $73 million for the Department to prosecute the terrorists in Article III courts; $237 million to purchase, renovate, and staff the Thomsen Correctional Center; $200 million for state and local security costs associated with criminal trials included in the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative; and $22.1 million in the budget for the federal Judiciary for court security and public defenders for the terrorists. Given the current fiscal constraints facing the federal government because of the increasing federal deficit, it seems that the more than $500 million in new federal spending for the trials and detention of the 9/11 terrorists could be saved by holding the trials by military commission at the existing facilities built at Guantanamo Bay.
While I am encouraged that your Administration has taken steps to reconsider the ill advised decision made by Attorney General Holder to try and prosecute the 9/11 conspirators in Article III courts, I remain concerned that you and officials in your Administration have not yet ruled out using other civilian venues. I strongly believe that military commissions created by the 2006 Military Commissions Act and modified by the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act provide the proper balance between ensuring the 9/11 conspirators are brought to justice in a transparent and accountable manner, that our intelligence sources and methods are not compromised by constitutional requirements inherent in the criminal justice system, and that our cities and courts are protected from becoming a future terrorist target. President’s Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt successfully utilized military commissions to bring combatants to justice in the past during armed conflicts. History has proven that military commissions offer a fair and just forum for bringing unprivileged enemy belligerents to justice without compromising our ideals.
In closing, as Commander-in-Chief, protecting and securing Americans against terrorist attacks is your paramount duty. In order to deliver on this responsibility, I strongly encourage you and your Administration to order the 9/11 terrorist conspirators be tried by military commission at Guantanamo Bay and not in an Article III court.
Chuck Grassley of Iowa
United States Senator