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US Senators Push to Block Civilian Trials for Terror Suspects

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has introduced legislation to cut off funding for the civilian trials of five alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Accompanied by a bipartisan group of senators who support the bill, Graham told reporters on Tuesday that the United States is at war with al-Qaida, and that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators should be tried under the law of armed conflict by military commissions.

Several Republican lawmakers and some Democrats have criticized the Obama administration for choosing a New York civilian court instead of a military tribunal to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Graham is leading the effort to get Congress to block funding for civilian trials for foreign terror suspects. "The law enforcement model being used by the Obama administration should be rejected. We are not fighting a crime, we are fighting a war. And to criminalize this war puts our nation at risk," he said.

The draft legislation comes as President Barack Obama faces increasing opposition to the planned Manhattan trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling on the administration to drop the plan.

Senator Graham summed up why many lawmakers and others oppose having prominent terrorist suspects appear in civilian courts. "Civilian trials are unnecessarily dangerous, messy, confusing and expensive," he said.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah pointed to trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, cited by many who support civilian trials of terrorists. Hatch said Moussaoui's trial in a federal court in Virginia took four years at a cost of about $200 million a year, and that Moussaoui used it as a platform to taunt family members of the victims.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia agreed that there is a risk that terror suspects will use civilian trials as a platform. "We run the risk of having very costly show trials that would benefit the international terrorist movement," he said.

Several senators, including Graham, were dismayed that the Obama administration turned Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas Day bomber, over to civilian custody and read him his rights after detaining him for nearly an hour. "It makes no sense to capture someone fresh off the battlefield and within 50 minutes read them their Miranda rights [rights afforded to people who are arrested as civilians], and lose all the intelligence they possess to help us win this war," Graham said.

Graham said he does not question President Obama's motives, but he does question his judgment.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was also angry about the way Abdulmutallab was handled. "I have some experience with interrogations, and 50 minutes does not get all that you need," he said.

In a written statement, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said civilian courts have successfully tried hundreds of terrorism cases, and that nearly 350 terrorists are being held securely in U.S. federal prisons. He said that in contrast, very few of the detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center have been brought to justice through military commissions.