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McConnell, Justice Dept. At Odds Over Terrorism Trial Site

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is disputing the Justice Department's defense of prosecuting terrorism suspects in Kentucky, saying the case is unique.McConnell wants the two Iraqis tried in Guantanamo Bay rather than in civilian court in Kentucky. The Kentucky Republican met Friday with local elected officials and law enforcement in Bowling Green, where the suspects were arrested.Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney David Hale says any claims that a civilian trial would put the state at risk of attack are unfounded."Before and since 9/11, hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in our civilian courts. Not one of these individuals has escaped custody and not one of the judicial districts involved have suffered retaliatory attacks," Hale read from a statement this afternoon.McConnell said this case is unique because it involves alleged foreign terrorists who entered the country as a result of a mistake by the government and are being given protections of the Bill of Rights.McConnell’s Republican Senate colleague, Rand Paul, says he’s not necessarily opposed to a civilian trial but also wants an investigation into how the men got into the country.(Information for this story also came from the Associated Press)Here's the complete statement by David Hale, U.S. Attorney for the Western Distict of Ky.:First of all, let me say again how proud I am of the extraordinary work done by our federal agents, our partners in local and state law enforcement, and prosecutors. I want to emphasize how well coordinated our anti-terrorism efforts were in developing this case. The architecture put in place after 9/11 enhanced collaboration between the FBI, the intelligence community, the military, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and our state and local law enforcement partners. The system worked here as it was designed. This was a well-executed counter-terrorism investigation that should inspire confidence, not fear. To be clear, this investigation dismantled a potential terrorist threat. It did not create one. Moreover, as we have previously noted, neither defendant in this case is charged with plotting terrorist attacks on American soil.The public safety concerns recently expressed about this prosecution and possible trial in Kentucky are understandable, and they merit a response, based upon fact and precedent. Every single suspected terrorist captured on American soil - before and after the September 11th attacks - has first been taken into custody by law enforcement. Our federal criminal justice system has demonstrated its effectiveness in handling terrorist threats. Before and since 9/11, hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts.Not one of these individuals has escaped custody. And not one of the judicial districts involved has suffered retaliatory attacks.The U.S. Marshals and the FBI have a proven track record providing comprehensive security without incident in these types of prosecutions all over the country, and I expect the same results here. The special agents and deputy marshals in this District are seasoned professionals with a great deal of experience in difficult and high-profile prosecutions, and, working with their state and local law enforcement partners on the JTTF, they will continue to be vigilant in fighting any terrorist threat to our safety. Likewise, the federal prosecutors handling this case are well-trained and experienced. For the last ten years, these investigations and prosecutions have been the top priority of the Department of Justice, and I am confident this case will be handled fairly, safely and effectively.In the Western District of Kentucky, we prosecute tough cases and dangerous defendants. We prosecute drug organizations and serious crimes of violence. Prosecuting these cases is what we do; and it is what this office has done effectively throughout its history.We will continue to work this case with the same level of commitment and determination that you have seen thus far. That commitment will extend to providing security throughout the prosecution of this case. I have every confidence in the ability of the U.S. Marshal, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement to ensure that this prosecution proceeds safely, securely and fairly.

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." Email Rick at rhowlett@lpm.org.