House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today the U.S. should consider holding civilian trials for terrorism suspects at the military base and prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, instead of in the U.S.
Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, suggested trying the suspects at Guantanamo Bay as a way of preserving civilian court trials for terrorist suspects without posing a security risk to Americans. He appeared on the CBS “Face the Nation” program.
The Obama administration hasn’t ruled out future trials for terrorism suspects in civilian courts after a New York jury cleared alleged al-Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ghailani of all but one of 286 counts in the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa.
The case may serve as a test for the administration’s plans to try terror suspects in civilian courts. Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, in New York has run into opposition from members of Congress and city and state officials.
Hoyer said he thought civilian trials could be arranged at Guantanamo. Asked if a jury would have to be flown in for the trial, Hoyer said, “we’d have to figure that out. But juries, as you know, are sequestered in many cases. So it wouldn’t be much different.”
Hoyer also said that “given the current concerns,” holding future civilian trials of terrorism suspects in the U.S. “probably isn’t going to happen.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a separate interview on the same program, defended the use of civilian trials, which she said “have a much better record of trying and convicting terrorists than military commissions do.”