SARASOTA — Two recent controversies — the investigation into the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, and where the alleged 9/11 mastermind should be tried — highlight why such cases must be left to the military justice system, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said Monday.
A way to remove the confusion, said Buchanan, would be for Congress to adopt a bill he introduced last month that would require foreign nationals accused of plotting terrorist attacks on the United States to be tried in military, not civilian, courts.
Military tribunals “give us an opportunity to keep classified material safe while conducting these trials,” said Buchanan, standing before a baggage screening machine during a news conference at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. “These terrorists are not common criminals, they are enemies that have declared war on America.”
Buchanan’s bill, the “Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act,” is part of a growing political and legal assault on the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism cases, pegged to the decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City courtroom, and criticisms over how the Christmas Day attack was investigated.
The scrutiny has heightened as the administration reportedly reconsiders where to hold the Mohammed trial. For example, a bipartisan group of senators is expected to introduce a measure today cutting off funding for civilian trials for suspected terrorists.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, a former Army lawyer, said the Obama administration is responsible for confusion about American policy. Buchanan’s bill, he said, would provide the “guidance” needed.
“From George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to FDR, military commissions have always been used,” Rooney said. “So why aren’t they being used now? What has changed in the military? What has changed with regard to keeping our people safe that this president does not believe that it’s adequate?”
Buchanan was reluctant to criticize the Bush administration, which after the 9/11 attacks tried several terrorism suspects in civilian courts, while also creating military commissions to handle some of the cases. Rooney, however, said civilian trials for “the shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, and others were “a mistake.”
“Exposing these people to our court system and giving them our constitutional rights is a mistake, and I think it is a slap in the face of every citizen that calls themselves American,” Rooney said. “When you use a military commission, you can serve due process while at the same time keeping evidence and sources and our agents safe, essentially from being outed.”
In addition to the security concerns, Buchanan and Rooney said it did not make fiscal sense to spend as much as $1 billion to try Mohammed and other terror suspects in civilian courts. Also, Rooney noted that the government has spent $250 million for a new maximum security prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,and millions more for a “spaceship” courtroom that has never been used.