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Vitter's View: Treating Gitmo Detainees as Terrorists, not Citizens


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Last week, President Obama's administration announced its intention to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his fellow conspirators in a New York criminal court for their part in the 2001 terror attacks.

Al-Qaeda has been actively orchestrating attacks against Americans and our interests at home and abroad since the early 1990s, and through the assistance of terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed they were able to drastically expand their reach and strike a monumental blow against our nation on September 11, 2001.

More than eight years after that terrible day, these terrorists are due to stand trial for their crimes. As detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they are considered to be enemy soldiers, subject to the judgment of a military tribunal. The decision by the Obama administration to try them in U.S. criminal courts is wrong on a number of levels.

First, these 9/11 conspirators are not Americans and they should not be treated as such and afforded the same rights guaranteed to us by our constitution. As enemy combatants, they should be tried in military tribunals -- a specific legal proceeding that provides them with a similar set of rights afforded to criminal defendants but treats them as what they are: enemy soldiers who were captured on the field of battle.
Second, the suspected terrorists and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay represent a very real threat to our national security. These dangerous criminals should not be transported to the United States to be held in the custody of local or law enforcement -- the risk is simply too great. Guantanamo Bay is an isolated military installation guarded by U.S. Marines -- a far more secure location for these trials to take place.

Finally, President Obama has publicly supported the use of military tribunals in the past. In fact, earlier this year, the president signed into law a bill that revised the Military Commissions Act but retained the government's authority to try terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in military tribunals.

Now President Obama is changing course and moving forward with an ill-advised plan that has angered Americans, put our national security at risk and could potentially endanger our relationships with our allies in the war on terror.

The president's reversal on this policy sends a mixed signal to the countries around the world that are joined with us in the war against terror. As our allies around the world commit their brave service members to join us in the fight against terrorists, mixed messages like this can only cause harm and threaten the future of the valued relationships we need to help keep our enemies at bay.

This week, I introduced a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay from being tried in U.S criminal courts instead of military tribunals. To reach this goal, my bill would prevent the use of any funds for the purposes of prosecuting any Guantanamo Bay detainees in a U.S. criminal court.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 conspirators are terrorists and they should be treated as such. Military tribunals allow us to maximize security while giving them their day in court.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this and other issues. Please contact me with your ideas at any of my state offices or in my Washington office by mail at U.S. Senator David Vitter, U.S. Senate, 516 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, or by phone at 202-224-4623. You can also reach me on the web at

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