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Senators want to end 9/11 civilian trials

From NBC's Pete Williams and Ken Strickland
A bipartisan group of senators today introduced a bill to cut off federal funds for putting the 9/11 terror detainees on trial in US civilian courts. The senators instead want the suspects tried though military commissions.

"The law enforcement model being used by the Obama administration should be rejected," said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is also an Air Force Judge Advocate General. "We're not fighting a crime; we're fighting a war."

Graham and his co-sponsors said the civilian trials favored by the White House are "unnecessarily dangerous, messy, confusing, and expensive."

"Do we really want to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the biggest microphone in the world to spread his message of hate?" Graham asked.

A similar legislative effort failed last November, 45-54. But if five senators change their votes, the measure would pass. Since then, the Christmas day airline bomb plot and the decision to move the terror trials outside New York has prompted new criticism of the administration's anti-terror policies.

But Democratic leaders counter that hundreds of other terrorists have been successfully tried in civilian courts. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy said in a statement today, "Federal courts have proven time and again that they are capable of handling terrorism cases. They have successfully tried hundreds of terrorism cases... In stark contrast to that record, very few of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have been brought to justice through military commissions."

Graham dismissed that critique, saying that Congress beefed up the commissions last year with a new law. "The Military Commission Act of 2009 was improved with extensive discussions with the Obama administration and [Armed Services Committee] Chairman [Carl] Levin... The system was unavailable Richard Reid, the blind sheik, and other terrorists."

Other senators participating in the news conference were included Independent Joe Lieberman and Republicans John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss, John Barrasso, and Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Jim Webb.

"To try them as common criminals, giving them the constitutional rights of American citizens in our courts is justice according to Alice in Wonderland," said Lieberman. Webb added, "We run the risk of having a very costly show trials that would benefit the international terrorist movement."

The senators also criticized FBI's 50-minute interrogation of the alleged Christmas Day bomber. "I would also remind you that I have some experience with interrogations," said John McCain, "and 50 minutes doesn't get you all the information you need."