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Gitmo debate hits KY governor's race; Republicans differ, Beshear clarifies

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on June 16, 2011 at 10:12 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 16 at 11:13 PM

(WHAS11) -- The push for two terror suspects arrested last month in Kentucky to be sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp rather than the federal courts sparked a debate on Thursday among the state's elected leaders.

After seemingly contradictory statements by Governor Steve Beshear, U.S. Senator Rand Paul alone remained open to the two men being tried in Kentucky.

Responding to a public statement by Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville), House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) joined the call for the Obama administration to send the two suspects to the Gitmo military prison.

The demand was first articulated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

"I think it's safe to say that a lot of Kentuckians, including me, would like to know why two men who either killed or plotted to kill U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq aren't sitting in a jail cell in Guantanamo right now," McConnell said in a Senate speech on Tuesday.

Williams escalated the demand in a public challenge Wednesday night for Governor Steve Beshear and Stumbo to join the call to the Obama administration.

"These terrorists have plotted against our soldiers and therefore deserve to be tried in a military court," Williams said, adding that a trial would endanger Kentucky and that taxpayers would foot the bill for security needs.

In his initial statement to WHAS11 News, Governor Steve Beshear stopped short of the demand.

"My concern is with the safety and security of the people of Kentucky.  I am reaching out to the federal authorities to let them know my concerns and to ensure that wherever they are held and however they are tried is not going to put Kentuckians at risk."

In response, Williams blasted Beshear, his Democratic opponent in the governor's race.

“Governor Beshear is again showing that he lacks the courage to stand up to President Obama and tell him exactly what is in the best interests of Kentuckians," Williams said.

Williams said he was dumbfounded that Beshear "apparently disagrees with this bipartisan demand aimed at preventing Kentuckians from becoming terrorist targets.”

After that Williams salvo, the governor's office distributed an addendum to Beshear's earlier comments.
 
"I am fine with the federal government sending them to Guantanamo Bay," Beshear said in his second statement, "My main concern is to get them out of Kentucky."

The bipartisan effort to try the suspects elsewhere does not include Republican Rand Paul, who in an interview with WHAS11 - appeared to agree with Beshear's initial statement.

Paul was asked if he shared any of McConnell's and Williams' concerns about the safety of Kentucky with the terror suspects being in Kentucky.

"I think the people who are on the ground and look at court safety and trials will have to look at that," Paul said, " And I think the only other way to look at it in a logical way would be to look at the other terror trials and - like I say - we've had several hundred terror trials in the U.S."

"I think in this instance, if you capture them here, I think the federal courts probably can take care of them much more swiftly than Guantanamo and actually give them very lengthy sentences if they are found guilty," Paul said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a rebuke to McConnell, also defended trying terror suspects in civilian courts on Thursday, insisting that civilian courts are "our most effective terror-fighting weapon."

Paul, who is seeking congressional hearings on how the Iraqi refugees were allowed into the U.S. despite ties to al-Qaeda and an IED attack on U.S. troops, concurred with Holder's stance.

"We have convicted over 400 terror suspects in the United States," Paul told WHAS11, "I think we've done a fairly good job and our conviction rate is actually very high.  I would differentiate with (9/11 mastermind) Khalid Sheik Mohammad in the sense that he is such an international figure that there could be a great danger to holding the trial here.  But, there's ample evidence that we can try people here (and) imprison them.  And then we get away from the backlash we get from other countries if we hold people without determination."

Meanwhile, McConnell plans to meet with elected officials and law enforcement officers from south central Kentucky in Bowling Green on Friday to discuss his Guantanamo demand.  Bowling Green is Sen. Paul's hometown.

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