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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I urge my colleagues, who will be made aware of a letter from Mr. Holder and Secretary Gates, who are urging defeat of this amendment, to look at the views of the previous Attorney General of the United States, which are diametrically opposed.
The 9/11 families say--and I am sure they represent all of the 9/11 families--
We adamantly oppose prosecuting the 9/11 conspirators in Article III courts, which would provide them with the very rights that may make it possible for them to escape the justice which they so richly deserve. We believe that military commissions, which have a long and honorable history in this country dating back to the Revolutionary War, are the appropriate legal forum for the individuals who declared war on America. With utter disdain for all norms of decency and humanity, and in defiance of the laws of warfare accepted by all civilized nations, these individuals targeted tens of thousands of civilian non-combatants, brutally killing 3,000 men, women and children, injuring thousands more, and terrorizing millions.
I would be glad to respond to a question from the Senator from Illinois.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Arizona. I would ask the Senator if he would be kind enough to ask unanimous consent that I could follow him, speaking after his remarks.
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Illinois follow me.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, these are the 9/11 families. All Americans were impacted by 9/11, the 9/11 families in the most tragic fashion. This is a very strong letter from them concerning the strong desire that these 9/11 conspirators not be tried in article III courts but be tried according to the military commissions.
The 9/11 victims experienced an act of war against the United States, carried out not on some distant shore but in our communities on the very symbols of our national power. Because it involved attacks on innocent civilians and innocent civilian targets, it is a war crime. It is a war crime that was committed by the 9/11 terrorists. It is important that we call things what they are and not gloss over the essence of these events, even though they occurred 8 years ago.
In response to the attacks, the Congress quickly and overwhelmingly passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force giving the President the authority to ``use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. .....'' The Senate passed this legislation unanimously.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force recognized the true nature of these attacks and committed the entire resources of the United States to our self-defense in light of the grave threat to our national security and foreign policy. The United States does not go to war over a domestic criminal act, nor should it. It was clearly understood at that time that far more was at stake. We sent our sons and daughters off to war, where they have been bravely risking their lives and futures on our behalf for the last 8 years.
Given the facts and history of the Ð9/11 attacks, we should not deal with the treachery and barbarism of the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians as a matter of law enforcement in the ordinary sense. To do so would belittle the events that transpired, the symbolism and purpose of the attacks, the huge number of lives that were lost, and the threat posed to the United States--which continues in the caves and sanctuaries of al-Qaida to this day.
During my life, I have been a warrior, although that seems a long time ago now. I have some experience in the reality of combat and the suffering it brings. I know something of the law of war, having fought constrained by it and having lived through it, with the help of my comrades and my faith, times when my former enemy felt unconstrained by it.
No, the attacks of 9/11 were not a crime; they were a war crime. Together with my colleagues in Congress, I have worked closely with the President to provide a means to address war crimes committed against this country in a war crimes tribunal--the Military Commissions Act of 2009. It was designed specifically for this purpose. It should be used not to mete out a guilty verdict and sentence that could not be achieved in Federal criminal court but to call things what they are, to be unshakable in our resolve to respond to the unprecedented attacks of 9/11 consistent with the Authorization for Use of Military Force and to tell this and any future enemy that when they attack our innocent civilians at home, we will not be sending the police after them to make an arrest.
By denying funds to the Department of Justice to prosecute these horrendous crimes in article III courts, I do not mean these outrages against our country and its citizens should go unpunished. In fact, I have long argued that justice in these cases was long overdue and that prosecutions should be pursued as expeditiously as possible. Rather, my support for this amendment is based on my unshakable view that these events were acts of war and war crimes and that the proper forum for bringing the war criminals to justice is a military tribunal consistent with longstanding traditions in this country that date back to George Washington's Continental Army during the founding of the Republic.
For that reason, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment so that the prosecution of war crimes will take place in the traditional and long-accepted forum of a military tribunal, as the Congress overwhelmingly enacted in 2006 and which the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 amended and improved in a statute that was enacted into law by President Obama just days ago.
Again, I hope we will, as we have in the past, listen to the families of 9/11. From the trauma and sorrow of the tragedy they experienced in the loss of their families, they became a force. They became a force that without them we would have never had the 9/11 Commission, we would have never been able to make the reforms that arguably have made our Nation much safer.
Now, today, the families are standing up and saying: Try these war criminals according to war crimes which they committed--the heinous acts of 9/11, which I know Americans will never forget.
Mr. President, I hope we will vote in favor of the amendment.
I yield the floor.
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