Amid a growing chorus of concern over security and the price tag of bringing suspected 9/11 attackers to trial in Manhattan, Rep. Peter King has moved to stop the government spending public money to try any Guan- tánamo detainees on U.S. soil.
Late Wednesday, King (R-Seaford) introduced legislation aimed at barring the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute any detainee in a criminal court anywhere in the United States or its territories. "I just feel this is the most simple and direct way to go at it, go right to the heart and try and cut the money off," said King, long an opponent of civilian trials for the detainees.
Separately, the Obama administration denied a report last night that the White House had ordered the Justice Department to look for other sites for the trial. A White House official said no such order had been given and a department official called the report inaccurate.
The legislative move by King comes as civic and business groups, as well as politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson, are asking the Obama administration to rethink its plan to hold the trial in the city.
King's bill is similar to one introduced in the Senate in November by David Vitter (R-La). Privately, an Obama administration source noted that King's bill appeared to conflict with a federal law passed last year that allows Guantánamo detainees to be brought to the United States for legal proceedings provided Congress gets 45 days' notice.
"I don't think it is a conflict," King said. "That doesn't nullify us. . . . If we have to, we can change that [earlier] law."
Calling the administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 conspiracy suspects in federal court in Manhattan "one of the worst decisions ever made by any president," King said his measure had a good shot at passing.
"I am comfortable if this comes to the House floor it will pass, especially after what Bloomberg said," King said, referring to comments by the mayor this week about moving the trial. King said Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee backed him and he is trying to drum up support among all representatives.
"Our federal courts have a long history of safely and securely handling international terrorism cases, and no district has a longer history than the Southern District of New York in Manhattan," said Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd.
Bloomberg Thursday reiterated the city was still willing and able to provide security if the trial were held at the Pearl Street courthouse. "Do we prefer they do it elsewhere? Yes," he added.
Both New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, who earlier backed the venue, said they shared the mayor's concerns. Fellow Democrat Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose district includes lower Manhattan, urged the trial be moved.
With Keith Herbert,
James T. Madore, Tom Brune