Political Notebook

GOP’s Graham urges shift on terror trials

Associated Press / March 8, 2010

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Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, is offering the White House a deal on terrorism trials.

Graham said yesterday that if the president agrees to try alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accused henchmen in military tribunals, he will press fellow Republicans to vote to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,’’ Graham said reversing Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to try the suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City would be seen as an act of leadership by the public.

The White House is reviewing Holder’s plan and no new recommendation has been presented to the president. A decision is not expected for several weeks.

Beyond Mohammed’s case, Graham also said a new legal framework is needed to deal with the most dangerous detainees at Guantanamo.

“We need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee, but also understands they didn’t rob a liquor store,’’ he said.

Closing Guantanamo was a key promise that President Obama made when he took office, but it remains unfulfilled.

Most Republicans say it’s a mistake to shut the prison and hold trials in civilian courts, while Obama’s Democratic allies say closing Guantanamo is a vital step in remaking America’s image abroad.

In a full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union said that if Obama fails to back Holder, he will be extending the policies of the Bush administration. The ad shows an image of Obama on the left and in subsequent panels moving to the right the image morphs into a portrayal President George W, Bush, who set up Guantanamo for suspected terrorists.

The ACLU said the US criminal justice system has successfully handled more than 300 terrorism cases compared to three in military tribunals.

The White House did not plan to respond to the ACLU ad.

Leading House Democrat expects health bill to pass
Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, who heads the House Democratic campaign team, said yesterday that he believes Congress will pass a health care bill, but three fellow Democrats who opposed overhaul legislation last fall aren’t committing themselves to backing President Obama’s late push.

The House and the Senate approved different version of the legislation by narrow margins. Merging the bills became more complicated when Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in January.

Van Hollen, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,’’ said House members are waiting to see the final plan and how the Congressional Budget Office analyzes its budget implications before deciding to support it.

“I believe it will pass. “Do we have a mortal lock? No,’’ Van Hollen said.

“But I think the trend is in the right direction because people see that the status quo is absolutely broken.’’

Three House Democrats who voted against the bill - Representative Brian Baird of Washington, Representative Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, and Representative John Adler of New Jersey - appeared open yesterday to changing their votes, but none of them committed to supporting the Senate legislation.

Altmire sounded the most optimistic. He said the Senate bill was better legislation overall, particularly in dealing with cost containment, but he said he wanted to see the CBO’s analysis.

Baird said he was still troubled by the complexity of the bill, calling it a “hodgepodge’’ of programs. Adler said he would not support a bill that doesn’t help businesses deal with rising insurance costs and doesn’t create more jobs.