By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The congressman in line to chair the homeland security committee in the new Republican-led House of Representatives said on Monday that he plans to challenge President Barack Obama on the issue of terrorism.
Representative Peter King of New York said one of his "main priorities" will be to stop Obama's plans to transfer detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States to stand trial in civilian courts.
King said he would also hold hearings on Obama's intentions to close the military facility, which now holds among its inmates Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a self-professed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda.
"On 9/11, al-Qaeda killed more than 150 of my friends and constituents. Their memories are what drive me in my work," King wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Post newspaper.
King is expected to become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee when the newly elected House convenes in January under Republican control, ending four years of Democratic rule.
King, now the panel's top Republican, unveiled his priorities as chairman in the opinion piece as well as in a statement issued by his office.
"I've never been shy about criticizing the Obama administration when its policies and priorities are wrong," King wrote.
"Yet I've also supported the administration when it does the right things to secure our homeland," King added. "As chairman, I'll continue to do both, as necessary."
The Obama administration had initially intended to prosecute Mohammed and other September 11 plotters in a U.S. criminal court blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York. But King and others objected, concerned about security.
The administration backed off that proposal but has not yet revealed its new prosecution plans. It has adopted what it calls a flexible approach, favoring military tribunals in some cases and civilian trials in others.
Obama has vowed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay amid international condemnation of the treatment of detainees. But he has run into political resistance at home, including in U.S. states where the prisoners would be moved.
"As chairman, I'll make securing our homeland from terrorists the committee's primary focus," King wrote, charging that the panel failed to do so while under Democratic control.
"The Democrats have convened hearing after hearing on such issues as Hurricane Katrina and diversity in the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) workforce," King complained.
"Those are important issues," King said. "Yet they convened those hearings to the exclusion of hearings on such serious terrorism issues as the al Qaeda-linked massacre at Fort Hood and President Obama's plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and transfer terrorists to the U.S. homeland."
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)