Adviser: Obama committed to civilian terror trials

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 5:32 PM

President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser said Friday that the administration is committed to trying detainees in federal court, even as it has reinstated military trials.

John Brennan said federal courts remain an important and necessary tool for trying terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This month, Obama ended a two-year moratorium on military trials, which made the goal of closing the detention center appear more distant.

"Terrorists arrested inside the United States will, as always, be processed exclusively through our criminal justice system," he said at a seminar on law enforcement and intelligence gathering. "The alternative would be inconsistent with our values and our adherence to the rule of law. Our military does not patrol our streets or enforce our laws in this country. Nor should it."

Brennan said the Obama administration remains committed to closing Guantanamo. He wondered why support for the closure seems to have waned recently, pointing to a Congressional move to virtually remove the civilian courts option. Republicans in Congress are demanding tougher restrictions for terrorism suspects and want to give the defense secretary rather than the attorney general final say on keeping a detainee in military custody.

He called the legislative efforts to block prisoner transfers an encroachment on executive authority.

Brennan said the closure of the detention center was essential for national security and said the fact it remained open was "preventing other countries from handing over terrorism suspects to the United States."

The gathering was sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, named for a former U.S. Supreme Court justice. Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, also spoke, arguing that the U.S. should not be singling out one group as more likely to become extremist.