Senate Defeats Ayotte Amendment to Block Civilian Trials for Terrorism Cases
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today welcomed the defeat of Senator Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) appropriations bill amendment that would have undermined national security and the rule of law. The amendment, defeated by a 52-47 vote early this morning, attempted to prohibit the use of civilian courts for a large category of terrorism cases. “We should all feel proud that wiser, more informed and level-heads prevailed in this debate and that the Senate ultimately stood up against this attempt to undermine one of our most effective vehicles for incapacitating terrorists. Cutting federal courts, with more than 200 years of experience, out of counterterrorism cases will undermine our security,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “Those who are serious about handling terror suspects favor federal criminal trials precisely because they have a proven track record of success where military tribunals do not.” Civilian federal courts have convicted over 400 individuals of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11. Military commissions have convicted only 6. Critics of civilian courts found themselves on the defensive once again this week when federal prosecutors secured a guilty plea from Farouk Adbulmuttalab, the “underwear bomber” who attempted to blow up an airplane over the skies of Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Critics had roundly criticized the Obama Administration for utilizing the FBI, local law enforcement and the federal courts to interrogate and prosecute the suspect. Despite this recent success in defeating the Ayotte amendment, and the continued robust track record of local law enforcement and federal courts, the Senate is still considering measures in the defense authorization bill that would further militarize domestic counterterrorism response. One measure would authorize the indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects – including American citizens apprehended on U.S. soil. Another would force law enforcement and intelligence officials to turn a large category of terrorism suspects over to the military. “The FBI and local law enforcement are our first responders in domestic counter terrorism and are the ones who receive almost 90% of the tips essential to foiling threats,” said Wala. “The U.S. has a heritage against deploying our soldiers on U.S. soil to detain people. The military is simply not prepared to deploy within the United States to take over these cases. Nor does it want to.” Majority Leader Reid had stated that he would not move the defense authorization bill forward unless these controversial provisions were addressed. A group of 23 nonpartisan retired generals and admirals sent Senator Reid a letter thanking him for standing up for national security and urging him to stay strong.