President’s reversal is right call

Published 12:07 am Thursday, April 14, 2011

An important story from our ongoing war on terror has received little attention. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the self-confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other terrorists would be tried in military tribunals rather than in civilian court. This welcome news reversed Obama’s stated plan to bring these dangerous murderers into the U.S. for trial.

The announcement brought about a significant policy change. On his second day in office, Obama promised to close the detention facilities on the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This ill-conceived political decision was the wrong approach and appears to be off the table for now. While terrorists remain committed to killing Americans, we must be vigilant and use all tools at our disposal to deal with them in an appropriate way.

For two years, Obama unilaterally suspended military tribunals while attempting to move the suspected terrorists into civilian court. The administration wasted time and taxpayer funds in attempts to pursue U.S. trials for Mohammed and the others being held. Civilian trials would have risked leaking sensitive intelligence, brought these terrorists to U.S. soil, and threatened the communities that would have been burdened with the responsibility of hosting the trials. I joined a bi-partisan group in Congress to block funding for such a move, and thankfully, the president finally relented.

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In 2006, the Military Commission Act passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. It outlined a legal process utilizing military tribunals, designed to bring enemy combatants of this long war to justice. War criminals have been tried in such tribunals for centuries. The administration’s recent reversal will now allow those tasked with trying these terrorists to do their job.

Last week, the Supreme Court also declined to hear cases brought by lawyers for three Guantanamo detainees who sought to overturn rulings from lower courts. The Supreme Court’s decision to keep the lower courts’ judgments in place is a victory for government lawyers seeking to keep the enemy combatants at Guantanamo.

Victims and the families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, have waited nearly a decade for an answer. Tribunals should begin as quickly as possible, and every effort must be made to prosecute those who have committed acts of terror. Further delays to justice cannot be tolerated.

According to defense officials, approximately 170 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, regarded as a trusted lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, and the other terrorists held there remain threats to Americans at home and abroad. The Pentagon estimates 25 percent of those released from Guantanamo have eventually returned to battle. Prosecutions of these enemy combatants in military tribunals are needed to hold them responsible.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I remain committed to ensuring our service members at Guantanamo Bay and around the world have the resources they need to protect Americans.

These brave men and women serve under very difficult circumstances.

Their jobs are essential and must continue.

Sen. Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.