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American Justice System Too Weak For Terrorists, GOPers Say



Evan McMorris-Santoro
Talking Points Memo
December 10, 2009

Standing in front of the Supreme Court this morning, a group of Republican lawmakers railed against the court system run out of the building behind them. A sign affixed to the plexiglas podium each spoke at in turn spelled out the reason for their concern. "Protect our homeland," it read. "Keep terrorists out of America."

The justice system laid out in the Constitution, they said, is just too weak to protect American citizens from wiley terror suspects. From "activist judges" to courtroom sketch artists, the group reeled off a list of reasons the Obama administration decision to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. for trial could quite possibly end in, as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) suggested, a nuclear attack on the United States.

The group of conservative lawmakers have been arguing against bringing the Gitmo suspects to the U.S. ever since the decision was announced. They suggest, as do most Republicans and some Democrats, that the best way to try terror suspects is through military tribunals on the Guantanamo Bay base itself. Today, they repeated that argument. But they added new focus to their claim that the Constitution and bringing terrorists to justice can't mix.

Gitmo is "the best place to have [trials], it's the best place to house them. It's the safest place," Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told reporters. "More importantly, it's the place that keeps activist federal judges from making activist decisions that could end up turning [terror suspects] loose on the streets of America."

After the press conference, King elaborated on his worries about U.S. judges. "We wouldn't even be thinking about trying these detainees on U.S. soil if it hadn't been for activist judges who decided they were going to confer constitutional rights on people that have never seen the United States of America," he said, referring to the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Supreme Court decision that said military commissions as set up by the Bush administration violated the Geneva conventions.

King suggested that "activist" judges could be inclined to release terror suspects over some liberal legal principle or another. "A judge can rationalize most anything," he said. "If you're a living, breathing -- how should I say it? -- 'evolving' constitutionalist than you can write anything you want to justify your own rationale."

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) was troubled by what might happen when waterboarding and the American right to a fair trial met in a U.S. courtroom. She worried what might happen if terror suspects argued they'd been given "cruel and unusual" punishment at Gitmo.

"This is what scares me because they're in a U.S. court now and the rights are different," she said. "What will they say [about their detention] and what could happen and could they be out among the people again? It's very frightening."

How frightening? Mushroom cloud frightening, according to Franks. He said that a federal trial would give the suspects "a megaphone to speak to the planet," which he said "only hastens the danger" of, literally, a nuclear terrorist attack.

When a reporter pointed out that federal trials aren't televised, perhaps making the "megaphone" a little less likely, Republicans said there were other ways for terror suspects to peddle their propoganda from a U.S. courtroom -- for example, sketch artists.

"What we've seen happen is artists draw pictures and this will be written up and there are interviews outside the courtroom everyday and there will be defense attorneys taking the global stage," King said. "We are in an electronic era where they Internet and all these other media that we have will create a real time look at what's going on in New York."

And check out TPM's slideshow of the event here.


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