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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2013-03-12

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    LEAHY. Mr. President, I will not engage the Senator from Arizona with questions. I don't want to delay his reading time.

    I appreciate the work the distinguished chair of the Appropriations Committee has done, and the distinguished ranking member, the senior Senator from Alabama. I worked with both of them for decades on the Appropriations Committee. I know they are diligent. They are hard working. In fact, I recall a discussion with the distinguished senior Senator from Maryland when she agreed to take this assignment. I told her I couldn't think of anybody better on our side of the aisle to be the chair of this committee because I know how hard she works and how well she works with the ranking member.

    I spoke also with the distinguished Senator from Alabama at the time--again, somebody who knows how to get things done on appropriations. He and I have negotiated things over the years. We have always kept our word to each other, just as the Senator from Maryland has. Now it is time to debate the bill on the floor and it pains me that having got this far, two senators are preventing anyone else from offering amendments.

    It is unfortunate we are discussing a continuing resolution because if left to the three Senators who are currently on the floor--the Senator from Alabama, the Senator from Maryland, and myself--we know we would be fully capable of completing action on individual appropriations bills. In fact, they were painstakingly negotiated by the Senate and the House as part of an omnibus legislative package last December. But then, for reasons we don't have to go into here, a year's work of seven appropriations subcommittees was dumped in the wastebasket, not because of the two leaders but because of others.

    Unfortunately, that means we have been funding the government on autopilot. None of us who have spent time on the Appropriations Committee wants this because we know it wastes money and sequestration will make a bad situation even worse.

    Having said that, I think what Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby have done in negotiating this continuing resolution is far better than putting the government on autopilot as we did last December.

    I wish to talk about title 7 of this resolution, which concerns the Department of State and Foreign Operations. The House continuing resolution included several changes in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations act. The Senate incorporated those changes with minor modifications. Senator Lindsey Graham and I included other changes we believe are critical to our national security. Top officials at the State Department and the Pentagon agree with us.

    We did our best to avoid spending money on things that may have made sense in fiscal year 2012 but are a waste today. I will give an example. The House continuing resolution includes another $250 million for the Iraq police training program, the same amount as in fiscal year 2012. Yet the State Department plans to spend zero in fiscal year 2013. That is just an example of why we should go, if we could, by the regular order, because nobody wants this money.

    There have been a lot of changes in the world since December 2011 when the 2012 bill was signed by the President. There is the catastrophe in Syria, with millions of people fleeing their homes, which threatens to engulf the entire region. Benghazi and Mali are other examples. Conditions are changing in Egypt, Afghanistan, and in our own hemisphere. We face growing challenges in East Asia and the Pacific.

    Now, we should not say, as these challenges come up--sometimes overnight--that well, two or three years ago we passed a bill, so there is no need to do one this year. The world does not stand still.

    I think the chairwoman is doing a superb job, and Ranking Member Shelby is showing, as usual, his many years of experience and hard work. I thank Senator Lindsey Graham and his staff, who have provided very constructive input.

    [[Page S1691]] In the past, appropriations bills were always a bipartisan effort. We worked together. I think of Senator Byrd and Senator Stevens on this floor working things out; my predecessor as President pro tempore, Senator Inouye, and Senator Cochran working things out.

    Title VII of this resolution is a grand total of 11\1/2\ pages. Out of over 500 pages, it is 11\1/2\ pages. It should not take long to read. We do not expect amendments, but if we get them, I hope we can act on them quickly.

    Mr. President, if nobody is seeking the floor, I ask unanimous consent that I be allowed to continue for 5 minutes as though in morning business.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. King). Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Arrest and Prosecution of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, last week the Obama administration announced that Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, had been brought to the United States to be prosecuted. Several of us who have oversight in particular committees were notified a week before this became public. We were briefed on what was happening as he was being flown here to this country to be prosecuted.

    I commend the work of our Nation's dedicated law enforcement and intelligence officials who are helping bring him to justice. I was briefed on exactly what they did and how they did it, and there was a superb combination of work by the Justice Department and intelligence communities, at the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. And I applaud the Obama administration for their unanimous decision within the National Security Council to prosecute him in a Federal court.

    We have reason to be proud of our courts. Our Federal courts are an example of impartiality, competence, and integrity seen the world over. We, as Americans, are not afraid to take somebody who has acted against us and prosecute them in our courts. We should not act as though we are afraid and simply say that we can't have them in our Federal court, and that we should just lock them up in Guantanamo.

    As a practical matter, our Federal prosecutors have established a tremendous record of convictions of terrorism defendants. They have convicted over 450 terrorism-related defendants since September 11, 2001.

    The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay--where some said they wanted to send Abu Ghaith--are largely untested. There have only been 8 convictions there--not the 450 we have seen in Federal courts but 8-- and on average the sentences handed down in military commissions are shorter than those given in the Federal court. In fact, two of these military commission convictions were overturned just last year. Indeed, based on the recent decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, it is unclear whether a conspiracy case against this defendant could even be legally sustained in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay.

    Why do we act as though we are afraid to bring this terrorist before our Federal courts where we bring mass murderers and everybody else, and instead argue that we should send him off somewhere where he may never be convicted? In fact, regardless of the outcome of a military commission proceeding against Abu Ghaith, it is possible that he could have been stuck there without the possibility of a Federal prosecution, given the shortsighted limitations on detainee transfers imposed by Congress. When you look at how well the Federal courts have done, I am surprised to hear people criticize the decision to bring him before an Article III Federal court.

    I would say that using our justice system is not mutually exclusive from gathering intelligence. In fact, from public accounts--and I refer to what has been in the press--it appears the FBI gathered information and intelligence from him for about a week before he was formally even arraigned in court last week. In fact, according to one of the prosecutors, law enforcement officials were able to obtain detailed, extensive audio recordings and roughly 22 pages of post-arrest statements from Abu Ghaith. And the fact is, also, as we have seen in some of these other cases, once you present the defendant in court, oftentimes they continue to cooperate and talk.

    It is clear to me that President Obama's national security team did the right thing. But we also show the rest of the world that we are not afraid, that as Americans we are not cowering and afraid to use our courts, and that we are not afraid to use the law and procedures that have made us free and strong.

    We have had several hearings in the Judiciary Committee on how best to handle terrorism suspects. I am convinced that the Attorney General and the administration must have all options available. For example, the case of the Fort Hood shooter went to a military trial, as it should have. That case involved a military officer committing a crime on a military base against other military personnel, even though influenced by somebody from al-Qaida overseas. But in the Abu Ghaith case we have somebody that we can and should prosecute on conspiracy charges in Federal court. As a former prosecutor, I have looked at that, and I have absolute faith in the abilities of our Federal courts and our prosecutors and law enforcement officials to bring terrorists to justice. They have a tremendous record.

    Let's not be afraid of these people. Let's not say: Oh, we have to hide them down there in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay. No, we are Americans. We are America. We are not afraid of terrorists. Bring them before our courts, and let them face American justice. Let them face our prosecutors and our courts. Let's do it in a way that we can show the rest of the world how justice truly works. When we tell them, why aren't you running your courts in an open way, or when we criticize other countries, as we often do, let us not give them an opportunity to come back and say, well, you don't do it that way yourselves. No--we can and must say that we do. We have captured the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who conspired with him to commit a horrible crime against our Nation. It took us years to find him, but we got him. We brought him back here. And now we are taking him to court, and we are going to let a jury decide his guilt or innocence. That is the way it should be done. That is the American way. And that shows that we do not have to hide. We Americans are willing to stand up and face those who would attack us.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland.

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