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Kentucky terror suspects re-ignite arguments over trial venue

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Lawmakers and top law enforcement officials are arguing anew about the proper venue for the trials of accused terrorism suspects after the arrests of two Kentucky men accused of aiding Al Qaeda with funding and weapons.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and other Republicans began arguing over whether it was proper to hold the trials of terror suspects Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi in Kentucky.

Blaming political pressure last April, Holder abandon controversial plans to try alleged 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other individuals in civilian court, saying they would instead face a military commission in Guantanamo Bay. 

A new case seems to have re-opened the battle between those that want to try accused terrorists on US soil and those that want to try them in military tribunals in Cuba. Alwan and Hammadi, Iraqi citizens who were living in Bowling Green, KY were charged in a 23-count indictment by the Department of Justice in late May with conspiring to send weapons and money to Al Qaida in Iraq. Alwan was also charged with attacking American soldiers in Iraq.

In a speech on the Senate floor on June 14, McConnell Alwan and Hammadi “don’t belong in a courtroom in Kentucky. They belong at a secure detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, far away from US civilians.”

“Sending them to Gitmo is the only way we can be certain there won’t be retaliatory attacks in Kentucky,” he said.  “Sending them to Gitmo is the only way we can prevent Kentuckians from having to cover the cost and having to deal with the disturbances and disruptions that would come with a civilian trial,” he said.

Holder fired back on June 16 in a speech at the American Constitution Society Convention. He noted “that some in Congress” want to ban holding trials of accused terrorists on US soil on the grounds that it would “somehow jeopardize public safety.” He said civilian US Courts were the most powerful tool in disrupting potential attacks, monitoring, prosecuting and jailing terrorists.

“Despite this reality, we continue to see overheated rhetoric that is detached from history – and from the facts,” he said.  “We see crucial national security tools, once again, being put at risk by those who disparage the American criminal justice system, and misguidedly claim that terror suspects cannot be tried safely in our civilian courts.”

Holder contended that “hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts.  Not one of these individuals has escaped custody.”

The rhetorical skirmish continued on June 17, when other Republicans backed McConnell. “Attorney General Holder is wrong,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). “Our ‘most effective terror fighting weapon’ is the work of the men and women in uniform and those in the intelligence community who are actually fighting terrorists,” he said. “Congress has made clear that our civilian criminal justice system is not the place to bring captured terrorists to justice.”