Senators: Let military keep Guantanamo trials

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's Republican U.S. senators differ on whether Guantanamo Bay detainees should be sent to North Charleston's Navy brig, but say they will work together to keep the accused terrorists out of federal courts.


U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint said Thursday he'll support U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's federal spending amendment that would bar putting taxpayer dollars into federal court trials for detainees. And Mr. Graham sent his Senate peers a letter signed by 9/11 victim family members calling for the military to decide the fate of detainees.

Accused 9/11 mastermind "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators are asking to plead guilty, now, before a duly constituted military commission. We respectfully ask members of Congress, why don't we let them?" the letter signed by 150 family members said.

But the Obama administration says the Justice Department should make the call on how Guantanamo detainees are handled.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a letter to Senate leaders saying they needed to block Mr. Graham's amendment because it "would set a dangerous precedent" and intrude on executive branch authority.

"We must be in a position to use every lawful instrument of national power -- including both courts and military commissions -- to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice and can no longer threaten American lives," they wrote.

"We need to make sure that when people are tried who take up arms against the United States that they're given fair trials but that our military conduct those trials like we have for 200 years," Mr. Graham said in a phone interview Wednesday. He notes the military handled trials of captive Japanese and German soldiers in World War II.

Mr. DeMint said in a statement Thursday that military trials are a minimum, but not nearly enough.

"While I strongly support efforts to prevent detainees from being tried in civilian courts, that step alone is not enough to protect Americans from terrorists being brought to their communities," Mr. DeMint said. "Congress must act now to stop the Obama Administration from transferring these violent terrorists to American soil."

He said the Obama administration is trying to appease "European elites. It shouldn't be an option to bring these terrorists into Charleston neighborhoods when it is completely unnecessary."

But Mr. Graham is open to the idea of trying Guantanamo detainees at the Navy brig if it's part of a comprehensive plan to try them in military courts and move them to other states for incarceration.

While there's concern for public safety, Mr. Graham said there's also a good deal of concern for the detainees' safety, and the military has an obligation to protect them and keep them from escaping.

"If one of them escaped in South Carolina, they wouldn't last long," Mr. Graham said.

Meanwhile, trying detainees in South Carolina could be a point of pride.

"As a matter of fact, if it were said that South Carolina was the place that administered justice to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that'd be fine with me," Mr. Graham said.