Key Democrat breaks with Obama on terror trials

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton on Friday said the Obama administration may be making a big mistake by trying the men accused of planning the Sept. 11 attack in U.S. criminal courts, becoming the highest-ranking Democrat to challenge the decision announced last week by Attorney General Eric H. Holder.

Mr. Skelton, Missouri Democrat, said the decision “raises many serious questions” and said Congress set up military commissions specifically to handle detainees from the war on terror.

“As a former prosecutor, I am not yet convinced that the right decision was made in these cases, nor that the presumption in favor of federal criminal trials over military tribunals for these detainees should continue,” Mr. Skelton said in a letter to Mr. Holder and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asking for a full briefing on the decision.

Mr. Holder last week announced that five men accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks, including to al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would be transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to New York to stand trial.

Defending the decision this week to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general said some other detainees would still face trial in military commissions, but said he has determined the five stand the best chance of a conviction in civilian courts.

As chairman of the House committee, Mr. Skelton’s opposition could be a problem for Mr. Obama.

On Afghanistan, Mr. Skelton already has made clear he wants Mr. Obama to follow the request of his top general in the region and send tens of thousands of new troops to help fight the war there. Mr. Obama is still considering his options in Afghanistan.

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