Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called President Obama soft on terrorism for deciding to try the acknowledged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and said it would increase the security risk to the city.
Trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the city also would wrongfully force Americans to pay for his security, both in court and in holding while awaiting trial, said the Republican who oversaw the city’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“What the Obama administration is telling us loud and clear is that both in substance and reality the war on terror from their point of view is over,” Mr. Giuliani said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This seems to be an overconcern with the rights of terrorists and a lack of concern for the rights of the public.”
The former mayor made the criticisms the same day that Democratic officials in Illinois trumpeted a prison in their state as a potential site to hold Guantanamo Bay prisoners when the Obama administration closes the facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is scheduled to happen next year.
The Obama administration announced Friday that Mohammed and four other accused co-conspirators would be tried in a civilian court in New York, sparking immediate protest. Supporters of the White House decision say the trial will be the ultimate test of the American style of justice.
“I have a lot of faith in our judges. They know how to run a trial,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.” “They know how to keep decorum in their court. If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed wants to stand up and say, as he did in Guantanamo, ‘I committed all these murders, I did all these things’: Fine. If I was a prosecutor, I would just sit there and let that jury hear it, because he’s going to be convicted.”
Mr. Giuliani made the rounds of Sunday talk shows, holding few punches, and other Republicans have been similarly critical of the decision to grant civilian trials to those accused of being illegal combatants.
“In this particular case, we’re reaching out to give terrorists a benefit that’s unnecessary,” Mr. Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week.” “In fact, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, when he was first arrested, asked to be brought to New York. I didn’t think we were in the business of granting the requests of terrorists.”
He also indicated that he detected a pattern of administration softness in dealing with Islamist killers, citing the administration’s handling of the mass shootings at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, where a Muslim officer is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 29 others.
“It seems to me that the Obama administration is getting away from the fact that we’re at war with these terrorists. They no longer use the term ‘war on terror.’ They have been very slow to react to the whole situation with Maj. [Nidal Malik] Hasan, which was clearly a terrorist act in the name of Islamic terrorism. Gosh, he announced it as such when he did it. He was carrying around business cards saying ‘soldier of Allah,’ ” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The decision to try the five Sept. 11 suspects in New York is part of Mr. Obama’s larger push to end detentions at Guantanamo Bay by Jan. 22 - a date that a senior White House adviser acknowledged Sunday may not be met. The facility is holding 215 prisoners.
“We may not hit it on the date, but we will close Guantanamo. And we are making good progress toward doing that,” David Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Meanwhile Sunday, Illinois’ top two Democratic elected officials pushed the maximum-security Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles west of Chicago, as a place to detain the terrorist suspects, sparking criticism from local and national Republicans.
Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said that using the near-empty prison this way would create, directly or indirectly, about 3,000 jobs in the depressed rural area.
“We have an opportunity to bring thousands of good-paying jobs to Illinois when we need them the most,” Mr. Durbin told reporters at a news conference in Chicago. “We have an opportunity to bring them to a part of our state that has been struggling, and that’s an opportunity we are not going to miss.”
Federal officials from the Bureau of Prisons and the Pentagon will tour the Illinois facility Monday. Several other facilities, including prisons in Kansas and Michigan, are being considered, sparking local debate about jobs versus security.
Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican and a 2010 Senate candidate, urged the White House in a letter “to put the safety and security of Illinois families first and stop any plan to transfer al Qaeda terrorists to our state.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Andy McKenna agreed, saying in a statement, “I wholeheartedly oppose Governor Quinn and President Obama’s efforts to move Gitmo detainees to our neighborhoods.”
Mr. Quinn dismissed the concerns, saying the prison could hold detainees safely.
“We’re not going to let the fearmongers carry the day,” he said.
Many Democratic leaders have been broadly critical of the way in which detainees were treated at the detention center and have pushed for court trials for the prisoners. And Mr. Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay facility was widely hailed by his political base when he announced it at the start of his term this year.
But meeting that promise has proved tough as he and his administration have struggled to decide where to put the prisoners. Calls to hold the detainees on U.S. soil have - much like this most recent announcement - turned into political issues.
“This is ideology run wild. We’re going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We’re now going to rip that wound wide open, and it’s going to stay open for, what, two, three, four years as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?” Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on “Face the Nation.”
The defendants “are going to do everything they can to disrupt it and make it a circus” for their Islamist ideology, he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the city’s law enforcement officials “believe that New York City can not only handle this, but that it is appropriate to go forward in the very area where these people launched this horrific attack against us.”
Mr. Axelrod spoke similarly Sunday, telling CNN, “We believe that these folks should be tried in New York City near where their heinous acts were conducted in full view, in our court system, which we believe in.”
Mr. Leahy denied on CBS that civilian trials would be a sign of U.S. weakness, saying instead, “What we’re saying to the world is ‘the U.S. acts out of strength, not out of fear.’
“We have a judicial system that is the envy of the world. Let’s show the world that we can use that system just as we used it with [Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh,” he said. “If somebody murders Americans, they ought to be prosecuted in America and hopefully convicted in America.”
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said, “The people in New York who saw the towers fall” would be the ideal people to judge the Sept. 11 terrorists. He also said military trials would play into Muslim sympathies for holy warriors.
“If we try them before military officers, that image of a soldier will be portrayed by the Islamic community. That’s not the image we want,” he said on Fox News.