AG Holder Set to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday; Will Defend His Decision on Detainees

November 18, 2009 - 7:44 AM
Critics of Holder's decision to try the 9-11 mastermind and four others in federal civilian court  have argued the trial will give Mohammed a world stage to spout hateful rhetoric.
Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder is honored at New York University School of Law's Brennan Legacy Awards Dinner in New York on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Washington (AP) - Attorney General Eric Holder is defending his decision to put the professed Sept. 11 mastermind on trial in New York -- and urging critics of the plan not to cower in the face of terrorists.
 
Holder is set to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers are likely to spar over the attorney general's decision last week to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged henchmen from a detention center at Guantanamo Bay to New York to face a civilian federal trial.
 
Critics of Holder's decision -- mostly Republicans -- have argued the trial will give Mohammed a world stage to spout hateful rhetoric.
 
In remarks prepared before Wednesday's hearing, Holder says such concerns are misplaced, because judges can control unruly defendants and any pronouncements by Mohammed would only make him look worse.
 
"I have every confidence the nation and the world will see him for the coward he is," Holder says in written testimony obtained by The Associated Press. "I'm not scared of what (Mohammed) will have to say at trial -- and no one else needs to be either."
 
Addressing other concerns about the case, the attorney general says the public and the nation's intelligence secrets can be protected during a public trial in civilian court.
 
"We need not cower in the face of this enemy," Holder says. "Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."
 
Holder announced Friday that five accused Sept. 11 conspirators currently held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be transferred to federal court in Manhattan to face trial -- just blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.
 
Five other suspects, Holder said, will be sent to face justice before military commissions in the United States, though a location for those commissions has not yet been determined.
 
The actual transfer of the suspects to New York is still many weeks away. The transfers are a key step in President Barack Obama's pledge to close the detention center at Guantanamo, which currently houses some 215 detainees. The administration is not expected to meet its January deadline to shutter the facility.
 
The president, traveling in China Wednesday, echoed Holder's comments about the New York trial.
 
"I think this notion that we have to be fearful that these terrorists possess some special powers that prevent us from presenting evidence against them, locking them up and exacting swift justice, I think that has been a fundamental mistake," Obama said in an interview with CNN.
 
In addition to the ten detainees named Friday, Holder is expected to send others to trials and commissions in the United States.
 
Another, larger group of detainees is expected to be released to other countries. Some, the president has said, are too dangerous to be released and cannot be put on trial, and those detainees will continue to be imprisoned.
 
The attorney general says his decisions between trials and commissions were based strictly on which venues he thought would bring the strongest prosecution.
 
Opponents of the plan, including Holder's predecessor Michael Mukasey, have accused him of adopting a "pre-9/11" approach to terrorism.
 
Holder emphatically denies that.
 
"We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power -- civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and others -- to win," Holder says.