Virginia Gov-Elect McDonnell Responds to Terrorist Trials

Virginia’s newly elected governor and attorney general say The Commonwealth dodged a bullet today when the Obama administration announced plans to try five Guantanamo Bay detainees in a federal court in New York City.

For months, New York City and Alexandria, Virginia have been atop the list of possible locations where suspects could be moved – and tried – as part of the administration’s plan to close the controversial prison. And for months, elected officials in Virginia – namely Republicans – have hammered the idea, saying the prisoners should stay at GITMO.

“I remain against it, and will stay against it,” Gov-elect Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, told Human Events today, alluding to Obama plan to close the prison.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, the incoming Republican attorney general,  agreed. The “whole point of having a place like Guantanamo Bay is to house and deal with people exactly like this, and to treat them like criminals, instead of opponents in a war, is absolutely absurd," he told Human Events.

"This is a bad precedent and it is not going to go anywhere good. I’m sure the CIA is very excited that they get to talk about water boarding in open court.”

He later added, “I’m glad they picked Manhattan, but I don’t think Manhattan is going to be very happy about it."

The comments came after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this morning plans to transfer five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – including the self-described mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – to New York City to have them tried in civilian court, where he will seek the death penalty against each of them.

Holder also announced that five other detainees held at the prison, including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was alleged to have planned the 2000 bombing of the USS cole, will be tried in military commissions and he is confident the trials will end with a conviction.

“I would not have authorized prosecution if I was not confident our outcome would be a successful one,” he said.

On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama vowed to close Guantanamo by January 22. But, with the deadline just months away, the administration has yet to deliver a concrete plan for where the prisoners will be moved.  Earlier this year, the White House asked for $80 million in funding to close the existing facility and set a new one up in the U.S. Congress decisively rejected the funding, barred release of Guantanamo prisoners in the U.S., and demanded reports on any releases. 

“Obviously there were things that needed to inspected and done better at Guatanamo, but that doesn’t mean you close the entire facility – especially when you don’t have a Plan B on what to do,” McDonnell said. “So, now they’ve got the tough choice after making the political decision of how to find out practically, what do you do, and there’s pretty stiff opposition in many locations around the country for having them there because of all the obvious security problems.”

McDonnell first voiced his opposition in the spring following news reports that indicated the Obama administration was pushing to transfer some of the detainees from the highly controlled military base 90 miles off the US coast to federal courts in New York and Alexandria.

While some Alexandria Democrats opposed the idea, others, including Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Rep. Jim Moran, of Alexandria, said they were confidence the administration would make the appropriate decision. 

But McDonnell and many Virginia Republicans came out in strong opposition the idea, expressing their concern that terror trials would take years, shut down roads, cost millions and could invite attacks from terrorist sympathizers. They pointed to the 2006 death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria as evidence of the cost and security risks involved in such high profile cases.

“People like Jim Moran, who have made comments that are very accommodating to the notion of bringing detainess here, they don’t represent even his own district,” Cuccinelli said today. “I have been there, I live close by. That’s just not something that the people around here want and it isn’t because they aren’t Patriotic and that don’t want to contribute. It’s because they think it’s stupid.”

To drive the point home, Virginia Rep. James Forbes in March introduced a bill – co-sponsored by the rest of Virginia’s Republican delegation – that would that would prohibit the use of funds to transfer individuals detained at Guatanamo Bay to “facilities or locations in Virginia.” 

(House Minority leader John Boehner, of Ohio, followed that up in May with legislation dubbed the "Keep Terrorists Out of America Act," which would bar moving Guantanamo prisoners to a U.S. facility unless the receiving state’s governor and legislature approval.)

At a March press conference, McDonnell applauded Forbes’ proposal, saying the president’s plan posed serious public safety concerns and that “each governor and state legislature should have the final say over whether or not a detainee will be placed in a location within their borders.”