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Reporter's Notebook: How the Gitmo debate unfolded in Kentucky

Mohamad Hammadi (left), Waad Alwan

Mohamad Hammadi (left), Waad Alwan

by Joe Arnold


Posted on June 20, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 20 at 9:24 PM

Regardless of the legitimacy of the arguments to move the trials of two terror suspects out of Kentucky, the debate over whether to ship them to Guantanamo Bay became a campaign and political issue last week.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul did no favors for fellow Republicans Mitch McConnell and David Williams when he said during an interview with WHAS11 that civilian trials in Kentucky for the two suspects are okay by him.

In the process, Paul may have taken some of the steam out of the argument that the terror suspects pose a threat to the community that hosts the trials.  Barring a change of venue, the trials would be held in Bowling Green. Paul's hometown.

Here's a look at my notes and a timeline of how the Ky Gitmo debate unfolded

Tuesday morning
Citing dangers, cost and justice, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls on the Obama administration to "change course — and get these men out of Kentucky."

Wednesday Noon
Bowling Green Daily News editorial agrees with McConnell:

"... holding the trial in Kentucky could potentially bring retaliatory attacks against jurors, judges and citizens in the city where the trial is held or the entire state.”

Wednesday 8:30pm
In a news release, Kentucky Senate President (and GOP gubernatorial candidate) David William calls on Governor Steve Beshear (D) and Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) to join him "in calling on the Obama Administration to send the Bowling Green terrorists to Guantanamo:"

“These terrorists have plotted against our soldiers and therefore deserve to be tried in a military court.  Furthermore, Kentucky tax-payers would be responsible for the terrific financial costs associated with a trial."

Thursday 11am
McConnell announces Bowling Green trip to "meet with local leaders to discuss Bowling Green terror suspects."

Thursday 11:16am
A spokesman says House Speaker Greg Stumbo "supported sending them to Guantanamo."

Thursday 1:02pm
Governor Steve Beshear releases a statement that stops short of agreeing with Williams' challenge:

“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.”

Thursday 3:45pm
WHAS11 tapes a satellite interview with U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who endorses civilian courts rather than Guantanamo for the Bowling Green suspects:

"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."

Thursday 4:50pm
Senate President David L. Williams responds to Beshear's statement.

"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. The fact that fingerprints from one of the terrorists was found on a bomb in Iraq aimed at killing our soldiers proves that these people are enemy combatants and should be tried in a military court. I appreciate Speaker Stumbo joining the call to insist the Obama Administration send these foreign terrorists to Guantanamo Bay and am equally dumbfounded that Governor Beshear apparently disagrees with this bipartisan demand aimed at preventing Kentuckians from becoming terrorist targets.”

Thursday 5:19pm
Williams campaign news release, "Beshear Refuses to Join Bipartisan Call to Send Bowling Green Terrorists to Gitmo"

Kentuckians are left to wonder: when will Steve Beshear actually find the courage to tell Barack Obama what is in the best interests of Kentuckians? He wouldn’t do it on Obamacare, standing on the sideline as President Obama blew a hole in Kentucky’s Medicaid budget and destroyed Kentucky hospitals. Beshear gives only lip service to fighting Obama’s “War on Coal,” which threatens thousands of Kentucky jobs. And now, even as Kentucky is at risk of becoming a target for terrorists retaliation, Beshear can’t muster the courage to demand that Barack Obama do the right thing and ship these terrorists to Guantanamo Bay for a military trial.

Thursday 5:34pm
Williams campaign releases statement from campaign chairman Donald Storm, former Kentucky State Adjutant Major General:

Thousands of Kentuckians have served honorably and in harm’s way in Iraq, and now it is imperative that these terrorists be sent to Guantanamo Bay so Kentucky civilians aren’t put in harm’s way as the possible targets of retaliatory terrorist attacks. I am disappointed Governor Beshear doesn’t feel the same way as the rest of Kentucky’s bipartisan leadership.”

Thursday 6:14pm
Statement released by Beshear clarifies earlier statement:

“Regarding the men in Bowling Green who are facing terror charges, I am fine with the federal government sending them to Guantanamo Bay.  My main concern is to get them out of Kentucky.”

Thursday night
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder rebukes McConnell in speech to American Constitution Society for Law and Policy:

"Politics has no place — no place — in the impartial and effective administration of justice.  Decisions about how, where, and when to prosecute must be made by prosecutors, not politicians.  And this is true for every case, whether it involves white collar criminals or brutal terrorists.”

Thursday 10:09pm
Louisville Courier-Journal posts editorial critical of McConnell's "embarrassing speech:"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's overheated insistence that two suspected terrorists arrested in Kentucky should be sent Guantánamo Bay's detention center for interrogation and trial is a deplorable exercise in fear-mongering and misinformation.

Friday 10:21am
Republican Attorney General candidate Todd P’Pool calls for suspects to be tried "at Guantanamo Bay, not here in Kentucky.”

“Facing the possibility of having suspected terrorists tried on Kentucky soil, it’s not surprising that Jack Conway hasn’t challenged the Obama administration on this issue,” said (P'Pool spokesman David) Ray. “Conway’s reckless position could endanger Kentuckians and cost the state vast resources to protect and detain suspected terrorists. This is yet another issue where he owes the voters of Kentucky a thorough explanation.”

Friday 11:58am
E-mail statement to WHAS11 from U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth:

“I agree completely with Attorney General Holder. These decisions should be made by prosecutors and law enforcement officials, not politicians.”

Friday Noon
McConnell news conference in Bowling Green:

“Maybe I’ll find somebody in Warren County who thinks it's a good idea to try these foreign terrorist here, but I haven't run into them yet,” McConnell said.

Friday 3pm
U.S. Attorney for Western District of Kentucky, David Hale, statement in Louisville:

"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."

Friday 4:06pm
McConnell news release cites WBKO-TV report, Daily News editorial:
Bowling Green Says No To Terror Trials, Local Voices ‘Definitely Think They Should Be Sent To Guantanamo Bay,’ ‘Shouldn’t Be Given The Same Rights And Privileges As U.S. Citizens’

Friday 4:16pm
E-mail statement to WHAS11 from U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie:

“Since the arrest of the two Iraqi Nationals in Bowling Green last month I have met with intelligence and law enforcement officials in Washington.  After learning more background I believe the Bowling Green terrorists must be tried in Guantanamo Bay.

“Our top priority must be to protect Kentucky citizens.  These two individuals are enemy combatants and should be treated as such, and tried before a military commission and not in the federal criminal court system.  There is direct evidence that that these men set IEDs on the battlefields of Iraq that harmed U.S. soldiers.”