By Daniel Malloy Feb. 1, 2010
A letter to the president from the office of Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, was circled around to the various members of the Pennsylvania U.S. House delegation today in an apparent attempt to present bipartisan pressure against holding the trial of suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Western Pennsylvania. This idea that has drawn a lot of press releases in recent days from Pennsylvania politicians, though a Western Pennsylvania trial doesn't actually appear to be under consideration by the Obama administration as a possible solution after it has decided not to have it in New York City. But the possibility -- inferred from the fact that the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville occurred within the Western District of Pennsylvania -- has nonetheless been denounced by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
But Murphy's letter was sent out with only Republican signatures: Reps. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, Glenn Thompson, R-Centre, Jim Gerlach, R-Chester County, Charlie Dent, R-Lehigh County, Joe Pitts, R-Lancaster County, and Murphy. Why? Could be because the letter takes a more Republican tone in addressing the issue than we've heard from Democrats in recent days. The Republicans write to President Barack Obama: "There is a solution and that is bringing these terrorists before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay. The Military Commissions Act expressly permits the Secretary of Defense to prosecute terrorists who attack defenseless civilians or 'civilian objects.'"
But Pennsylvania's senators -- both Democrats -- didn't reject trials in Western Pennsylvania because they don't like civilian trials. Instead, they basically said: Not In My Backyard. "I believe they ought to hold that trial someplace in a federally secure compound, not in a big city or not where civilians are put at risk," Sen. Arlen Specter said in a statement. A spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey Jr., contacted Friday, said the senator would oppose trials in Pennsylvania but is not opposed to civilian trials overall.
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, wrote his own letter to Obama, focusing more on the cost reasons for opposing the trials. But he also said he would oppose civilian trials in the "continental United States." He voted for an amendment that would have stripped that provision from the Homeland Security appropriations bill in October. (The NRCC sent out an email today calling Altmire a flip-flopper for voting for the overall appropriations bill, but he sided with the Republicans in the failed effort to stop funding for detainee transfers.)