House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton

Skelton concerned about detainees in civilian courts

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder to request a briefing on the administration’s decision to use federal criminal courts to prosecute detainees currently held at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

November 20, 2009

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301

The Honorable Eric H. Holder
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Sirs:

One week ago today, you announced that the Attorney General, in consultation with Secretary Gates, had determined that the United States government will prosecute in the Southern District of New York five detainees who are currently detained at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and are charged in military commissions with conspiring to commit the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. These detainees are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. You also indicated your intention to withdraw pending military commission charges against these detainees, once federal charges are brought against them.

The decision to terminate the prosecution of these self-confessed terrorists in military commissions, transfer them to the United States, and bring them into a federal courthouse for trial raises many serious questions which I would like you both to address in a full committee briefing on December 3, 2009, at 1:00 p.m. We would be willing to accommodate a classified briefing, upon request, due to the nature of the information that may need to be discussed.

As you know, the recently enacted Military Commission Act of 2009, which my colleagues and I carefully drafted, is a vast improvement over the previous military commission system by curing many of the legal infirmities of the latter. The new law ensures that hard fought convictions stick and are not overturned on appeal due to these structural deficiencies. I and many others, including the president, have argued that strengthened military tribunals are an appropriate forum to try detainees for law of war violations, such as those perpetrated against us in this country eight years ago. I am interested to know how the decision was made to take these detainees out of the military system and into federal court, how the July 20, 2009, protocol, “Determination of Guantanamo Cases Referred for Prosecution,” for making this decision was applied in these particular cases, the procedural status of the five detainees who will remain in the military commissions system, the location of future military tribunals, and the budgetary and other implications of these decisions. As a former prosecutor, I am not yet convinced that the right decision was made in these cases, nor that the presumption in favor of federal criminal trials over military tribunals for these detainees should continue.

I look forward to engaging with you on this critical topic in the full committee briefing to ensure that justice is served and preserved. I expect that the full committee briefing will also help define the scope of a subsequent full committee public hearing.

Should you have any questions concerning this request, please have your staff contact the committee at (202) 225-4151.

Very truly yours,


cc: The Honorable Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Ranking Member

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