Sep 19 2007

Senate Turns Back Specter-Leahy Amendment Giving Terror Suspects Expanded Access to Federal Courts

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today took to the floor to speak against an amendment offered by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) giving terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba expanded access to file lawsuits in federal courts.


Less than an hour later, the U.S. Senate defeated the Specter-Leahy amendment on a 43-56 procedural vote.  Sixty votes were required to move forward.


In 2005 and 2006, Graham played a leading role in the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act (MCA) respectively.  The laws set forth the procedures for determining enemy combatant status, a very limited federal court review of military detention, and the procedures for the trial of the most dangerous terrorists by military tribunal.  Graham authored a provision which denies terrorists the right to file habeas corpus rights.  Enemy combatants have used habeas petitions to demand faster mail delivery, high speed internet access, and even to allege medical malpractice and demand millions in punitive and compensatory damages from our troops.  These laws ensure that federal courts do not take over the military decision of determining who is and is not an enemy combatant.


“Never in the history of warfare have enemy prisoners been able to bring lawsuits about their detention,” said Graham.  “Thousands of Germans and Japanese soldiers were captured and held by the military during World War II. Not one case was allowed in federal court where they were allowed to sue for their release. Our rules for the War on Terror should be no different.”


Under the Specter-Leahy amendment, enemy combatant terror suspects would have expanded rights to file habeas corpus petitions in federal court challenging their detention. It would also fundamentally weaken the rules governing military tribunals.


“The decision of determining who is an enemy combatant belongs with the military, not federal judges,” said Graham.  “Judges are not trained to determine who presents a threat to our nation. That is why Congress has only provided for a limited procedural review of combatant status determination.


“Before the MCA was signed into law, enemy combatants were filing frivolous suits requesting better mail delivery, more exercise, judge-supervised interrogation, Internet access, the right to view DVDs and alleging medical malpractice," said Graham. "We also made it clear in the MCA terror suspects could not sue American troops for doing their job.  The MCA protects our troops and national security while living up to our international commitments and obligations.


“It's time we put terror suspects on trial before military tribunals for their crimes against the United States ," said Graham. "If we begin tinkering with provisions of the MCA, it will slow efforts to bring terrorists to justice.  Some of the masterminds of the 9/11 attack on America are being held at Guantanamo Bay .  I'm ready to see them stand trial and suffer the consequences of their actions against the United States . It's time for justice to be served, not delayed.


“I cannot think of a better way to undercut the War on Terror than to adopt the theory that Al Qaeda members are common criminals, not global warriors,” concluded Graham.