(CNSNews.com) – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a press briefing on Tuesday that there was “bipartisan support” for Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute four prominent terrorists, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in civilian court in New York City.
Hoyer pointed to "three very conservative observers"--former Libertarian Party presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R.-Ga.), American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist--who he said agreed with Holder's decision.
Hoyer also said that while he thought Abd al-Nashiri--who allegedly orchestrated the terrorist bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors--would get a fair trial at a military tribunal, Kalid Sheikh Mohammed would also get a fair trial in a civilian court instead of a military tribunal for his role in 9/11.
Hoyer cited a letter signed by Barr, Keene and Norquist that said civilian courts were the “proper forum” for terrorism trials.
The letter was issued by the anti-Guantanamo Bay Constitution Project. Hoyer read portions of the letter at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday and referred to the letter again when answering a question from CNSNews.com during the event.
The portion that Hoyer cited reads: “Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases. Civilian prisons are the safe, cost-effective and appropriate venue to hold persons convicted in federal courts. Over the last two decades, federal courts constituted under Article III of the U.S. Constitution have proven capable of trying a wide array of terrorism cases, without sacrificing either national security or fair trial standards.”
“Likewise, the federal prison system has proven itself fully capable of safely holding literally hundreds of convicted terrorists with no threat or danger to the surrounding community,” Hoyer read from the letter.
These arguments led Hoyer to conclude that there is now “bipartisan support” for the Obama administration’s decision to try top terrorists in federal court in New York City.
“So, obviously there is, I would say, bipartisan support for the actions that the attorney general has determined are in the best interest of bringing these--what I think all of us would agree are heinous criminals who created heinous acts--to justice and that Keene and Norquist and Barr all agree with the attorney general and the president that this can be done consistent with the safety and security of the United States,” said Hoyer.
However, not all of the al Qaeda terrorists currently being held at Guantanamo Bay are being tried in civilian courts. Five other detainees will be tried by military tribunals, including Abd al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which killed 17 American sailors.
Despite his support for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court, Hoyer did say that the military was perfectly capable of giving terrorists like al-Nashiri a fair and constitutionally acceptable trial.
When CNSNews.com asked, “Do you think that al-Nashiri can get a constitutionally legitimate and fair trial in a military tribunal?” Hoyer said, “Yes.”
Hoyer was then asked why, if the military can give al Qaeda terrorists a fair and constitutionally acceptable trial, it should not try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the attack on the Pentagon, where military personnel were also killed.
Hoyer said he did not disagree with Holder’s decision to try some terrorists in military tribunals, but added that he thought, like the three conservatives he had cited, that civilian courts were better for prosecuting terrorists than military courts.
CNSNews.com asked: “If we can give a fair trial in a military tribunal to the alleged mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole [bombing] then why not try the mastermind of the attack on the Pentagon, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a military tribunal as well?”
Hoyer said: “I think that probably would be possible. Again, let me reference--with which I happen to agree--Barr, Norquist, and Keene, very conservative observers who believe in this case, Holder has made the right decision.”
“I don’t disagree with his [Holder] decision in the other case,” said Hoyer. “I think the military commission, particularly as it has been changed and revised by the Obama administration, can in fact in that [al-Nashiri] case act appropriately.”
The other Al Qaeda terrorists who will be tried by military tribunals include the following:
-- Omar Ahmed Khadr, charged with war crimes for the murder of Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, and conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, spent his formative years traveling with his family in Afghanistan, often spending the Muslim holiday of Eid with Osama bin Laden.
-- Ibrahim al Qosi, a former bin Laden bodyguard captured fighting U.S. troops at Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
-- Mohammed Kamin, an al Qaeda terrorist and weapons supplier captured in Afghanistan in 2003 after launching missiles at U.S. troops.
-- Noor Uthman Muhammed, the director of an al Qaeda terrorist training camp who personally trained al Qaeda recruits in small arms and missile training until his capture in Pakistan in 2002.
The United States has always prosecuted war criminals and others accused of unlawful combat in war tribunals, most notably in the case of eight Nazi saboteurs captured in the United States during World War II.
All were tried by military tribunal on the order of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and six were put to death. The two who were not put to death had their sentences commuted by Roosevelt because they had turned themselves in to the FBI and had aided in the capture of their co-conspirators.
The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court, where the court unanimously upheld that military tribunals were the proper place to try unlawful combatants.That case is known as Ex Parte Quirin.
Keene, Norquist and Barr did not respond to requests for comment on this story.