McConnell: Unanswered Questions on Guatanamo

‘These kinds of questions are not insignificant. They involve the safety of the American people. And that’s precisely why Congress demanded a plan before the administration started to move terrorists from Guantanamo. The American people don’t want these terrorists in their communities or back on the battlefield’

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday regarding the questions surrounding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, including Ahmed Ghailani, to the United States for trial in civilian courts:

“It wasn’t that long ago that the Senate voted almost unanimously to oppose bringing any terrorists at Guantanamo to the United States. But earlier this week, the administration ignored the will of the American people as expressed through that Senate vote by transferring a Guantanamo detainee named Ahmed Ghailani to New York. The purpose of the transfer is to try Ghailani in a U.S. civilian court for his role in the African embassy bombings of 1998. The administration’s decision raises a number of serious questions. “First, Ghailani has already admitted that he attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and assisted those who planned and carried out the embassy attack, but says he did so unintentionally. In a U.S. civilian court, if you’re found not guilty, you’re allowed to go free. So if we’re going to treat this terrorist detainee as a common civilian criminal, what will happen to Ghailani if he’s found not guilty? And what will happen to other detainees the administration wants to try in civilian courts if they are found not guilty? Will they be released? If so, where? In New York? In American communities? Or will they be released overseas, where they could return to terror and target American soldiers or innocent civilians?

“Second, if Ghailani isn’t allowed to go free, will he be detained by the government? If so, where will he be detained? Would the administration detain him on U.S. soil, despite the objections of Congress and the American people?

“Third, why does the administration think a civilian court is the appropriate place to try Ghailani? Congress enacted the Military Commissions process on a bipartisan basis as a way to bring terrorists to justice without disclosing information that could harm national security. Some have complained that the previous administration moved too slowly on Military Commissions, but a lot of that delay was due to the constant legal challenges that were leveled against the process, including by some in the current administration. In fact, Ghailani’s case was already being handled by the Military Commissions process – to the point that a judge had established a trial schedule for him. This schedule would be well underway if the administration had not suspended all military commission proceedings several months ago. Now we will have to start the process for Ghailani over again in civilian court.

“The administration made the right decision by reconsidering its position on Military Commissions and deciding to resume their use. So why did the administration decide to stop the Military Commission proceedings against Ghailani that were being conducted in the modern, safe, and secure courtroom at Guantanamo and move him to the U.S. to try him in civilian court? Is it because the administration doesn’t think that by deliberately targeting innocent American civilians Ghailani violated the Law of War? Does it think he should be treated as just another domestic civilian defendant?

“Fourth, how will the administration ensure that trying Ghailani in a U.S. court doesn’t damage our national security? As we’ve seen in the past, trying terrorists in the U.S. has made it harder for our national security professionals to protect the American people.

“During a previous trial of suspects in the African embassy bombings, evidence showed that the National Security Agency had intercepted cell phone conservations between terrorists. According to press reports, this revelation caused terrorists to stop using cell phones to discuss sensitive operational details.

“And during the trial of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, testimony given in a public courtroom tipped off terrorists that the U.S. was monitoring their communications. As a result, these terrorists shut down that communications link and any further intelligence we might have obtained was lost.

“On the question of Guantanamo, it became increasingly clear over time that the administration announced its plan to close the facility before it actually had a plan. If the administration has a plan for holding Ghailani if he’s found not guilty, then it needs to share that plan with the Congress. These kinds of questions are not insignificant. They involve the safety of the American people. And that’s precisely why Congress demanded a plan before the administration started to move terrorists from Guantanamo. The American people don’t want these terrorists in their communities or back on the battlefield. But that’s exactly where Ghailani could end up if he’s found not guilty in a civilian court. Before it transfers any more detainees from Guantanamo, the administration needs to present a plan that ensures its actions won’t jeopardize the safety of the American people.

“Finally, earlier today, the Senate Majority Whip came to the floor and claimed there is evidence that al Qaeda may be recruiting terrorists within Guantanamo. I am glad to see that the Majority Whip appears to be acknowledging the FBI Director’s concerns that Guantanamo terrorists could radicalize the prison population if they were transferred into the United States. The fact that these terrorists might be able to recruit new members and conduct terrorist activities from behind bars is an important one. I also find it preposterous that the Majority Whip would assert that because I and others—including, by the way, Members of his own Conference—want to keep dangerous terrorist detainees away from American communities, we will enable terrorists to escape justice. Keeping these terrorists locked up at Guantanamo, and trying them using the Military Commissions process, is the best way to deliver justice while protecting the American people.”