SESSIONS’ OPENING STATEMENT AT DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OVERSIGHT HEARING
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at the Department of Justice oversight hearing, at which Attorney General Eric Holder testified:
“Let me first acknowledge several people in the audience today.
David Beamer from Florida and Alice Hoagland from California are here. David lost his son Todd, and Alice lost her son Mark, on Flight 93. Lisa Dolan is here; she lost her husband, Navy Capt. Robert Dolan, at the Pentagon on September 11th. Debra Burlingame is here, she lost her brother, a pilot. Also, we are honored that Tim Brown, from the New York Fire Department, is here. Tim worked night after night on the rescue and recovery effort at the World Trade Center. It is a privilege to have each of you with us today.
On September 11, 2001, our nation was attacked by a savage gang of terrorists. Their intent was to kill innocent Americans and bring ruin to the United States.
The death and destruction they caused in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania was an act of war.
At the time, that was crystal clear to us. If there is now—among some folks in Washington—any confusion on that point, it is because time has dulled their memory, or because other matters have clouded their judgment.
But the American people remember that day well, and they know that the facts have not changed.
President Bush responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks swiftly and forcefully, and we have been blessed that the dedicated work of millions of Americans has prevented a similar attack.
Today, we remain engaged in two long struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq. We wish the work there were easy, but it is not. As we sit in this chamber, 188,000 American men and women in uniform fight tirelessly to root out terrorism from foreign battlefields. Our military and intelligence personnel are in fact at war every day—seven days a week—under dangerous and adverse conditions, because this Congress has authorized and asked them to go there, and we sent them there.
The best way to honor these men and women is to work just as hard and just as smartly to ensure what we do supports them and the goals we have set for them.
Regrettably, when I look at the policies taking shape under the new administration, I fear this is not the case.
Over the last nine months, we’ve seen the Obama administration:
• Continue to delay providing clear leadership to our troops in Afghanistan;
• Call for an investigation and potential prosecution of CIA agents who risked their lives to capture dangerous terrorists, and who previously have been cleared of an investigation;
• Cut a deal on a media shield bill to protect individuals when they leak classified information to the mass media;
• Concede to a weakened form of the PATRIOT Act, a vital legislative tool for our intelligence community;
• Decline to provide basic information about possible terror links to the tragedy at Ft. Hood; and,
• Announce that they will bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11—back to Manhattan, to be treated as a common criminal in U.S courts.
Taken together, I think these policies signal to our people, to our country, to our military, and to the international community that, for the U.S., fighting global terrorism is not the priority it once was—that we can return to a pre-9/11 mentality.
The problem is this: al-Qaeda doesn’t agree.
They continue to seek to do us harm, as we all well know. We must continue to be vigilant as we track down these terrorists and bring them to justice, and we must use all lawful tools to do so. Lives are at stake.
Today’s hearing will focus on, among other issues, the Attorney General’s decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorist in U.S. courts rather than in military tribunals.
I believe this decision is dangerous, I believe it is misguided, and I believe it is unnecessary. It represents a departure from our longstanding policy that these kinds of cases should be treated under the well-established rules of war.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is alleged to be a terrorist; he’s not alleged to be a common criminal. He is someone who has a desire not for ill-gotten gains, but for the destruction of our country. The correct way to try him is by a military tribunal. This distinction is important because military courts and civilian courts have fundamentally different functions.
The U.S. court system was simply not designed to try unlawful enemy combatants. Mr. Holder, I don’t think these are normal defendants. These are people we are at war with. We are dropping bombs on them this very day, attacking their lairs wherever they hide.
The fabulous policewoman who went straight to Hasan at Fort Hood firing a weapon, was in effect participating in a war effort.
The enemy who could have been obliterated on the battlefield on one day, but was captured instead, does not then become a common American criminal. They are first a prisoner of war once they’re captured. The laws of war say, as did Lincoln and Grant, that prisoners will not be released from the war until the war ends. How absurd is it to say that we will release people who plan to attack us again?
Secondly, as part of their military activities, if they violate the laws of war, then, and only then, may they be tried for crimes. That’s what happened to the Nazi saboteurs in the ex parte Quirin case in World War II when they were tried by military commission. Military commission trials are fair. They are recognized, not only by our country, but by nations all over the world.
Far from seeing our actions as some sort of demonstration of American fairness I suspect that both our cold-blooded enemies and our clear-eyed friends must wonder what is going on in our heads. Are we, they must ask themselves, still serious about this effort?
As former Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote in 2007, ‘terrorism prosecutions in this country have unintentionally provided terrorist with a rich source of intelligence.’
Mr. Attorney General, we’re concerned about what’s happening today. We respect and like you, but these are serious questions and we’ll raise a number of issues as we go throughout the hearing. Thank you.”