It's Not Only Health Care: Obama's Terror Policies Could Be Riding on Massachusetts Senate Race

It's not just health-care reform that's riding on Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate race. The fate of key Obama counterterrorism policies, including using federal court trials for top Al Qaeda suspects, may be hanging in the balance, as well.

As we pointed out this weekend, top administration officials are increasingly nervous that, in the aftermath of the foiled bombing aboard the Detroit-bound Northwest flight, the mood on terrorism has shifted on Capitol Hill. The big concern, especially at the Justice Department, is that Congress may block funding for the prospective trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court in New York.

The chances of that  happening will only increase if Republican Scott Brown beats Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat Tuesday. Brown has repeatedly hammered Coakley for her support for civilian trials for terror suspects.

"In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them," said Brown in a statement before a veterans group last month and which is posted on his campaign Web site. "Martha Coakley believes enemy combatants deserve a civilian trial in our court system instead of before a military tribunal. Her view is that the war on terror is principally a law-enforcement matter. I disagree. Our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation and its citizens─they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in war time."

And all that was before the Christmas Day plot. Since then, Brown has campaigned with hardliner Rudy Giuliani, argued that waterboarding is not torture, and contended that the Nigerian suspect aboard the Northwest flight, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should be treated as an "enemy combatant" rather than a criminal suspect.

Coakley's position, it is worth mentioning, would not have provoked such attacks from Republicans until recently. As numerous commentators have noted, the idea of trying accused terrorists in federal courts was accepted by the Bush administration for shoe bomber Richard Reid and virtually every other terrorist suspect arrested in the United States. 

Brown's campaign comments would seem to make it a safe bet that he would vote for the amendment GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told Declassified he will bring early this year to bar the Justice Department from proceeding with Attorney General Eric Holder's plans to try KSM in federal court in New York. Graham─who lost a similar amendment by a 55 to 45 vote last November─insists he's got new support from Democrats who only two months ago backed the administration.

It looks like one of them could Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Through an aide, Nelson told us that he's got "no problem" with the decision try Al Qaeda suspects in federal court, "but he's concerned about the venue being in New York and the security risk there."

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