McConnell: KY Terror Case Unique, Should Be Moved
By Associated Press
Bowling Green, KY – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continued Friday to put pressure on the Obama administration, meeting with local officials in Kentucky and pressing his call for two Iraqis arrested on terrorism charges in his home state to be sent to Guantanamo Bay and face a military trial.
"Before this ill-advised decision to try these foreign terrorists in Bowling Green, I think I'm fairly safe in saying there's probably not a foreign terrorist in the world who could have found Bowling Green, Ky., on a map," McConnell said at a news conference in this south-central Kentucky college town. "They know where it is now."
Bowling Green is home to Western Kentucky University and to Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul. Paul has called for congressional hearings to determine how Waad Ramadan Alwan, 30, and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 23, were granted refugee status.
Alwan and Hammadi are charged in a 23-count indictment with conspiring to send weapons and money to al-Qaida in Iraq. Alwan is also charged with attacking American soldiers in Iraq. A grand jury in Bowling Green charged the men last month.
The last time Republicans, along with New York Democrats, put pressure on the Justice Department to move a terror trial from a civilian to a military court at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration backed off the plan. That case involves Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and four other men, who were to be tried in New York but are all now at Guantanamo Bay.
McConnell urged a communitywide outcry opposing the local trial for the suspects, citing the Mohammed case.
"Maybe if this community speaks with one voice loud and clear, the administration might be willing to reconsider what I think is clearly a very bad decision," McConnell said.
But Paul and McConnell appeared to disagree on where the suspects should be tried.
"Sen. Paul believes military tribunals are best for enemy combatants captured on field of battle," said his spokeswoman, Moira Bagley. "He also understands that the Justice Department, FBI and Bowling Green police spent months developing the case they have, which they believe will result in justice being done."
Paul said the larger issue is how the two men entered the U.S.
"I will work in the Senate to fix the visa process, or I will end it," Paul said in a statement.
A local official who attended the private meeting with McConnell said Bowling Green residents are unnerved at the prospect of a local trial for the men.
Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said residents "feel exposed" since the arrests.
"They're worried about retaliation, they're worried about becoming a soft target," Buchanon told reporters.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended holding a civilian trial for the suspects in a speech he gave Thursday in Washington.
Friday, a Justice Department spokesman responded to McConnell's latest attacks.
"Critical decisions on national security cases should be handled by the veteran counter-terrorism agents, intelligence analysts and prosecutors around the country who do this work for a living, not politicians looking to score political points," department spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney David J. Hale, the top federal prosecutor for the western half of Kentucky, tried Friday to defuse public fear.
In a statement, Hale said the investigation that netted the suspects "dismantled a potential terrorist threat. It did not create one."
Neither suspect is charged with plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S., Hale noted. He said hundreds of people have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts.
"Not one of these individuals has escaped custody," Hale said. "And not one of the judicial districts involved has suffered retaliatory attacks."
Officials would not say where Alwan and Hammadi are being held, but during a recent court appearance, an Associated Press reporter saw them emerge from a Warren County Regional Jail vehicle.
McConnell conceded that the decision on where to try the suspects rests with Holder. But he said the attorney general was wrong in lumping the Kentucky case with hundreds of other terror cases.
The Kentucky Republican asserted "there is no other case" like the one in Kentucky.
"This is the only case in which alleged foreign terrorists have gotten into the United States as a result of a mistake made by the United States government and then are being given the protections of the Bill of Rights by a very bad decision on the part of the attorney general," he said.
Boyd disputed McConnell's claim, specifically citing the case of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Yousef, a foreign national, entered the U.S. in 1992 with suspect passports. He was not arrested upon arrival, but was released pending a hearing after claiming political asylum. He never appeared for his hearing and later went on to carry out the World Trade Center attack.
He was arrested in 1993, convicted in a federal court in New York and sentenced to 240 years in prison.
Not everyone in Bowling Green seemed worried. Bryan Dockery, 33, said he would have no problem having the terror trial in town.
"I think the government does a fine job with whatever it decides to do," he said. "And I'll support them either way."
Joel Brown, 78, said he wasn't worried about security risks, but wants to see the suspects shipped to Guantanamo Bay.
"They're enemies of the country and they need a different kind of treatment than regular citizens," he said.
Hammadi's attorney, Jim Earhart, has said both men were legally in the country and should be afforded the same rights as anyone else legally in the United States.
No trial date has been set for the men.