- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

House Republicans say they’ll make Democrats feel the political heat for President Obama’s decision to try Sept. 11 attack plotters in U.S. civilian courts by trying to force a vote on a bill to block those trials.

Republicans will launch a discharge petition — which means if a majority of House members sign on, then the bill would automatically be brought to the floor for a vote, despite the objections of Democratic leaders who control the chamber’s schedule.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the Obama administration’s decision to move 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks from the Guantanamo Bay detention site to civilian courts in the United States shows Democrats are “out of touch.”

“It really begs the question of what is the administration’s overarching strategy to fight the terrorists and keep Americans safe. We haven’t seen that overarching strategy yet,” Mr. Boehner said.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, will sponsor the petition, Mr. Boehner said.

If successful, the petition would force a vote on the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act,” which would require that a governor and state legislature approve any transfer of a suspected terrorist from Guantanamo to their state.

The Senate already debated this issue earlier this month. On a 54-45 vote, senators gave the green light to Mr. Obama to go ahead with civilian trials for the Sept. 11 plotters.

Attorney General Eric Holder last week announced the decision to hold the U.S. trials.

Mr. Holder and his backers say U.S. courts have shown they can handle the cases, and say the Sept. 11 attackers should not be dignified with military commission trials, which would elevate them to the level of warriors.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he thinks there’s bipartisan support for Mr. Holder’s decision, pointing to a letter from three conservative leaders who defended civilian trials as the right legal venue to hear the cases.

But Mr. Boehner and other opponents say the terrorists don’t deserve the same rights as U.S. citizens, and worry that holding civilian trials signals a return to the 1990s when the threat from al Qaeda was treated as a criminal matter, not a war. They also argue that sensitive intelligence information could be revealed in court trials and that the accused could use the trials as a propaganda exercise.

The last successful discharge petition was in 2001, when Republicans and Democrats joined together to force a vote on overhauling campaign finance rules over the objections of Republican leaders who controlled the chamber at the time.