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Attorney General Defends Decision to Try 9/11 Suspects in Civilian Court


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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has strongly defended his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in a New York federal court. Facing tough questions from Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Holder rejected concerns that a public, civilian trial will give the suspected terrorists a platform to voice their anti-American views.

Attorney General Eric Holder rejected criticism from Republican leaders about his decision to use a New York federal court in downtown Manhatten to try five of the accused plotters of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon eight years ago.

Holder said the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would have no bigger platform in civilian court to present hateful rhetoric than he would have had at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

"I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is," he said. "I am not scared of what Khalid Sheik Mohammed has to say at trial, and no one else needs to be afraid either."

Holder said federal judges control their courtrooms, and can control the behavior of unruly defendants. He also rejected charges made by some Republican lawmakers that a public, civilian trial could compromise national security.

But Republican members of the Senate panel and other Republican leaders passionately disagree with Holder and President Barack Obama on the decision to use civilian courts to try high-ranking terrorist suspects.

Ranking Judiciary Committee member, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, said he is worried this decision and some other actions taken by the Obama administration send a signal to the world that fighting terrorism is no longer the priority it once was.

"I believe this decision is dangerous, I believe it is misguided, I believe it is unnecessary," he said. "It represents a departure from our long-standing policy that these kind of cases should be treated under the well-established rules of war."

Attorney General Holder rejected any suggestion that he did not think the United States is still at war against al-Qaida.

"We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power - civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and others, to win," he said. "We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he is worried that trying the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in federal court is setting a very troubling precedent for the future, and asked if al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden would be given the same civil rights every American receives in court.

"The big problem I have is that you are criminalizing the war," he said. "That if we caught bin Laden tomorrow, we have mixed theories, and we could not turn him over to the CIA, the FBI or military intelligence for an interrogation on the battlefield because now we are saying that he is subject to criminal court in the United States, and you are confusing the people fighting this war."

Attorney General Holder said he could not say how or where Osama bin Laden will be tried if and when he is detained. He said in the case of the 9/11 plotters he will seek the "ultimate" punishment, the death penalty.

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