Press Conference With Rep. Peter King - The Upcoming Trial Of Guantanamo Bay Detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani For The 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings

Press Conference

By:  Pete King
Date: June 9, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

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REP. KING: First of all, thank you very much for being here.

At the outset, let me state that, while I strongly disagree with the attorney general's decision to bring Ghailani to the United States for trial, I certainly wish and hope that the administration is successful, that he is convicted, and that he spends the rest of his life in prison. So despite any policy differences on the procedure on the whole issue of Guantanamo, the most important thing is that this terrorist remain in prison for the rest of his life. So I want to make that clear up front. There's no hope for failure here to prove a point.

Having said that, I disagree -- I strongly disagree with the decision of the administration, for several reasons. One, it is a mistake to be bringing anyone from Guantanamo until an overall policy has been arrived at as to what is to be done with the detainees, what the procedures are going to be, what prisons they're going to go to, what the standard of proof is going to be, and what is to be done with a detainee who could be acquitted in an American court. What's the status of that prisoner, that detainee, that defendant?

Now, in the case of Ghailani, while this is a pre-9/11 case, to me, this represents an effort on the part of the administration to go back to what I believe was a mistaken policy of attempting to deal with terrorism with civilian courts; to treat it as a law-enforcement problem, rather than a terrorist problem. And in the case of Ghailani, again, while I hope he's convicted -- and the case against him appears to be strong, and there have been prior convictions on the African embassy bombings -- assume for the moment that there would be an acquittal in the case. What is the position of the administration in that case?

For instance, he could still be charged, I believe, for the fact that he was arrested on the battlefield, that he was still involved with al Qaeda against American troops subsequent to September 11th and subsequent to the charges in this indictment.

Do we have the prerogative to hold him? Can we hold him in an American prison? And if so, on what basis? That to me is another real danger of too quickly removing him from Guantanamo.

I think the administration is trying to prove a point here. They're trying to make a point. They're trying to take a case where they feel a conviction should be somewhat easy and use that as the precedent to bring other detainees to the United States.

So I think this is very hasty. It's premature, and it raises questions which have not yet been answered. And it shows to me an indifference by the administration to the will of Congress, when they see the overwhelming majority of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, want all of these proceedings put on hold until an overall procedure has been adopted.

So with that, let me just express my strong opposition. I know I'm speaking for the minority leader, Mr. Boehner, and expressing his opposition. But also I would say I'm also speaking for the majority of the American people, who do not want these detainees brought to the United States, certainly not before a full, overall procedure has been devised and worked out, and also a way of working with the governors of the individual states.

So with that, I will try to answer any questions you might have. Yes, sir.

Q A two-part question. Have you communicated any of this to the administration already, any of your concerns, and/or have you gotten back any kind of assurance? Were you told ahead of time that this was going to happen? Anything that comforts you about that transfer?

REP. KING: No. I, first of all, have not received any notification from the administration, which is unfortunate, if we're talking about a bipartisan system of dealing -- not just Republican and Democrat, but also the administration and the Congress, because going back to, oh, at least four to six weeks ago, I sent a letter to the attorney general, asking what the procedures are going to be, asking for any updates or any information at all for how they're going to handle the detainees, what ones he intended to bring to New York. I know Congressman Frank Wolf did the same with Virginia. And I've heard nothing from the Justice Department from that time. And I certainly think, in this instance in particular, as a show of good faith and as a show of attempting to work out some sort of common ground, there should have been an attempt made to communicate.

But again, I'm not here because of hurt feelings. Believe me, that's the least of it. But as far as getting a working procedure for the future, I think it would have been advisable for the administration to reach out, whether it's me or Congressman Hoekstra or Congressman Smith, Congressman Wolf, who also could become, you know, directly impacted by this. It would have been wise for them to do it, to -- in an attempt to arrive at a long-term solution.

Q Senators Graham and Lieberman were both asked about this earlier and said that as long as this isn't a precedent, they're comfortable with Ghailani being tried in the federal court system, with the hope that this will not be precedent.

Given that, I guess, that their concerns have been allayed, why is it that you're so concerned about this specific case? Because of the precedent issue? Or --

REP. KING: One is the precedent issue. And probably -- I have a great regard for Senator Lieberman and Senator Graham; start with that. But I am still concerned about the precedent, despite any assurances from the administration.

And secondly, I'm concerned with what happens if he's acquitted. Do we forfeit, then -- do we give up the opportunity to try him for the fact that he was an active member of al Qaeda after September 11th, when he was captured on the battlefield?

And, if so, what right do we have to hold him? What are the procedures under which he can be held? Is he going to be deported? Will he be held here in the United States?

The president has said, for instance, that he will not release on American soil anyone who is dangerous to American security. Well, if Ghailani is acquitted in the court, what do we do to hold him? What is the basis to hold him after that?

And I wouldn't say -- if he's acquitted on these charges, once we take our shot at him on this -- and you got to hope we win -- but if we don't, do we have the right to hold him on charges of his involvement with al Qaeda subsequent to September 11th? I think that should have been resolved before he was brought here.

Q What do you think about the adequacy of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and the safety in the federal courts in New York City? Do you have -- because when Congressman Wolf was expressing some concerns a few weeks ago about something happening out in Northern Virginia, he expressed -- safety for his constituents out there. Do you share that same concern? Or are New York jails pretty good?

REP. KING: I think that there would be concern if it were than one. If we were talking about, you know, looking -- when you look at the number of detainees at Guantanamo, it could be far more than one.

This particular case -- now, listen. New York can handle almost anything. We had previous trials here in New York. So while this one detainee coming to trial is an extra burden on New York, New York can handle it. It's not a necessary risk, but it's a risk that New York, I'm sure, can handle.

Having said that, again, if we go to the issue of precedent, though, what Congressman Wolf and I were mostly concerned about was the fact that it appeared, on the evidence available and on -- from reports we were getting, that a large number of the detainees would be tried either in the Southern District of New York or in Northern Virginia.

And that -- having significant numbers -- really having more than a handful, to me, does create significant security risks, especially when you realize where the MCC is located: within walking distance of City Hall, of Ground Zero, of the Brooklyn Bridge, of police headquarters, of the entire federal and state court system in lower Manhattan.

So to me, it's unnecessary risk for no reason. And that's the concern I would have. No, the City of New York, the federal officials in New York, can obviously handle one case at a time. My point is, why have this unnecessary risk imposed on us?

And secondly, for the long term, I -- despite what people say about precedent, people say it's not precedent when it's happening, but then, looking back on it, they say, "You know, look at the Ghailani case, that was handled okay; why can't we bring X number more detainees to New York?" And that's my concern.

Okay?

Q Thank you.

REP. KING: Thank you very much. Thank you.