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Lindsey Graham Is Not Just Trying to Block Civilian Trials, He Wants to Keep Gitmo Open


It's a simple point, but it may bear repeating: The legislation introduced yesterday by Sen. Lindsey Graham and assorted others -- including Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln -- would not just block federal funds to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his 9/11 co-conspirators in civilian courts. Its practical effect, if Graham and his cronies get their way, could be to keep Guantanamo open, for years to come.

Mother Jones's Nick Baumann recently pointed out:

If Graham's gambit succeeds, it would upend the White House's promise to close down Guantanamo Bay. His legislation would require the 9/11 conspirators to be tried in military tribunals at Gitmo. That would make it close to impossible for Obama to close down the prison until after the trials were completed -- a process that could take years.

In fact, the legislation does allow for the possibility of trying KSM at a military base other than Guantanamo. As Rep. Frank Wolf, who introduced the House version of Graham's bill, explained in a statement: "Our legislation would ... allow for a military commission at Guantanamo Bay or on a secure military base inside the U.S."

Still, the bill's cosponsors -- including John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch and Saxby Chambliss -- have repeatedly stressed that the existing military commissions in place at Guantanamo are the right place for the 9/11 trials. "Congress and the Administration created military commissions for terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo Bay," says John McCain.

The recent revolt by New York politicians over the projected security costs of holding the 9/11 trials in Manhattan (reportedly more than $200 million a year), along with the release of Obama's massive new military budget, which, according to The Hill, "allocates $400 million to close the terrorist detention facility and an additional $73 million for the transfer, prosecution and incarceration of detainees at Guantanamo," has played into Republican hands.

"All of this additional spending is unnecessary when the administration could treat terrorists as enemies of our country and try them in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay,” Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, declared on Monday. "Gitmo is a bought-and-paid-for facility that can be run at a low cost and with guaranteed security for the American people."

While it has backtracked on its plans to bring the 9/11 trials to New York, the Obama administration maintains that they will nevertheless be federal civilian trials. It also denies recent rumors that the White House is reconsidering transferring Gitmo detainees to the federal supermax prison in Thomson, IL. "No, we're not reconsidering," spokesman Matthew Lehrich told the Chicago Tribune yesterday.

Nevertheless, as the ongoing debate over the so-called "underwear bomber," is proving, politicians like Graham and his cronies are intent on widening the net for military commissions, while dispensing with due process. As the senator told Greta Van Susteren yesterday: "We need a system that would allow this guy to be interrogated by our military without a lawyer intervening."