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State Sen. Scott Brown was on the attack in Monday night's debate — the last before the Jan. 19 general election. He took issue with Attorney General Martha Coakley on how terrorist suspects should be tried. He said alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed should be treated as an enemy combatant and not tried in New York.
"To think that we would give people who want to kill us constitutional rights and lawyer them up at our expense instead of treating them as enemy combatants to get as much information as we can under legal means — it just makes no sense to me," Brown said, "and it shows me that you don't quite understand the law when it comes to enemy combatants versus terrorists for United States citizens."
Brown supports the death penalty. Coakley opposes it. He pressed her to say whether, if found guilty, the alleged 9/11 masterminds should get the death penalty. She said yes, because that's the sentence under federal law.
The candidates disagreed on President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Coakley opposes the president's decision, and she explained why to moderator David Gergen.
"I'm not sure there is a way to succeed," Coakley said. "If the goal was, and the mission in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe that the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They're gone. They're not there anymore. They're in Yemen. They're in Pakistan. Let's focus our efforts on where al-Qaida is and not always decide we need to..."
"Would you then send troops into Yemen, where al-Qaida is?" Gergen asked.
"No," Coakley replied. "That's exactly the point. This is not about sending troops everywhere we think al-Qaida may be."
Brown pointed out that he and Coakley both support legalized abortion.
"Yet we have a very real difference," Brown said, "and the difference is I'm against partial-birth abortion, you're not."
"That's not right," Coakley shot back.
"Martha", Brown said, "with all due respect, you wrote an editorial that anyone can go online and find where you actually criticized partial-birth abortion, the fact that it's in fact not allowed. And we also have have a difference in that I don't believe that federal funding of abortion should be allowed, and I believe in a very strong parental consent notification law."
In a 2007 op-ed article in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger, Coakley called a Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on late-term abortions "tragic." In Monday night's debate, she came back at Brown by trying to portray him as a social conservative. She questioned him about a proposal he sponsored dealing with emergency care for rape victims.
"Am I wrong, Scott," Coakley asked, "that the bill you filed allows for emergency personnel to deny care if it's within their decision?"
"Yes," Brown answered. "You're absolutely wrong. It was an amendment..."
"I'm wrong or I'm right?" Coakley persisted.
"You are wrong," Brown replied.
"What does that amendment do?" Coakley asked.
"I'm not in your courtroom," Brown answered. "I'm not a defendant. So let me answer the question. The amendment you're referring to allowed hospitals who had religious preferences not to perform abortions or provide those services."
In 2005, Brown proposed that hospital personnel be exempted from providing emergency contraception if they had religious objections. His amendment never passed.
Brown came into this debate trailing Coakley. According to most polls, Brown is behind Coakley by as much as 15 points. Monday night provided his chance to change the game, in front of the largest audience of the campaign. He'll know in a week whether he made enough of an impression for the upset victory he seeks.
This program aired on January 12, 2010.
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