November 18th, 2009
02:10 PM ET
4 years ago

Holder defends decision to try alleged 9/11 terrorists in New York

Washington (CNN) – Attorney General Eric Holder defended his decision Wednesday to try five suspected 9/11 terrorists in civilian court.

"We are at war and we will use every instrument of national power - civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and others –to win," he told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong."

Holder announced last week that the suspected terrorists - including confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - will be tried in civilian court in New York City.

All five suspects have been held in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Critics of Holder's decision have argued that the suspects should be tried by a military tribunal.


"There is nothing common about the treatment the alleged 9/11 conspirators will receive," Holder promised. "In fact, I expect to direct prosecutors to seek the ultimate and most uncommon penalty for these heinous crimes."

The attorney general has promised to seek the death penalty for all five suspects.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said at the start of the hearing that he agrees with Holder's decision.

The alleged terrorists "should answer for their brutality," he said. "I have full confidence in the capacity of New York" to try the case.

Federal courts have successfully tried over 100 terrorist cases since the September 11 attacks, he said.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, questioned Holder's judgment. Sessions argued the decision to try the five suspects in a civilian court was one of many Obama administration actions signaling to allies that "fighting global terrorism is not the priority it once was."

Holder said he knows "we are at war with a vicious enemy who targets our soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan and our civilians on the streets here at home. ... Those who suggest otherwise are simply wrong."

Dozens of family members of 9/11 victims recently signed a letter to Holder and President Barack Obama opposing a civilian trial for the alleged plotters.

They said it would give the men a well-publicized platform to espouse their views, in a trial to be held just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers crumbled when the hijacked planes crashed into them.

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will have no more of a platform to spew his hateful ideology in federal court than he would have in military commissions," Holder replied Wednesday.

"Before (his military) commissions last year, he declared the proceedings an 'inquisition,' condemned his own attorneys and our Constitution, and professed his desire to become a martyr. Those proceedings were heavily covered in the media, yet few complained at the time that his rants threatened the fabric of our democracy."

Holder brushed aside concerns that the suspects might be found innocent by a federal court. He said he has told prosecutors that "failure is not an option. ... These are cases that have to be won."

His decision, he said, "will withstand the judgment of history."


Filed under: 9/11 • Eric Holder • Guantanamo Bay
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Of course...why would terrorists not have all the rights of an American citizen and all the rights the Constitution provides. What's sad is that the terrible Bush regime led to this joke of an Obama administration. Next election cycle, I wouldn't be surprised if the terrible Obama administration leads to an even worse swing to Palin. Are there no true centrists in this country anymore?

    November 18, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. Duck Fallas

    It has been proven time and again over the last decade that the greatest threat to American security and America's standing in the world is the republican party.

    November 18, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. Stick with it Mr. Holder

    We are with you,

    Let Justice Prevail, its the only antidote to endless war.

    Americans fed up with living in fear. We know that sometimes it sucks to have to live up the the principles that make this country great.

    U.S. exceptionalism is cradled in our Justice System.

    It is our Justice System , that must prevail, or we fail, we fail our ancestors, we fail our children.

    November 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  4. mark

    I live 2 blocks away from the court houses and I can say that I am mortified by this decision. The security threat posed by this trial is unreal.

    November 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  5. Free Thinker

    another step in the ruination of our country and constitution.

    November 18, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  6. vtbob

    In our justice system once you confess to a crime, you do not get a trial, You go before a judge and get sentenced. Why are we having a trial when he (KS Mohammed) already confessed to masterminding the 9/11 attack? Why is he not being sentenced to death and save millions in tax payers money?

    November 18, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. Independant Vet

    Why did it have to be in NY ? Made more News if it was held on the front door steps of the wh.

    No that couldn't be , for we got to bring back memories an add more terroist to NY. We are not all blind an see how they operate.

    What a the price tag this is going to be ? And for how many years. ???

    When they can mame an kill on an Military Base , Now this
    administration is asking for more blood shed.

    Yes , America you have your change at work . And it is coming to see that there has to be a change . WAKE UP AMERICA ,

    There excuse , to have it in Ny. is one of the wost in mankind. Ask any member that lost loved ones , then an recently. A MEN

    November 18, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. Nick , California

    Try the terrorist and be done with it! I for one will not live in fear! If you are afraid they have won!!!! If we continue to live in fear as a nation we will never rid ourselves of the baggage we carry today. We must come together as a nation and show the world we are not afraid!!!

    November 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  9. machtim akannah

    The more he feels he has to defend his decision, the more he is being dishonest with the American public. This trial will run a minimum of 4 years and will cost the taxpayers multimillions of dollars. No other country in the world would be bending over so far. The result is that we will get it up the ass again. My one regret is that Holder himself will not feel the pain directly and personally that is being caused here. Schmuck.

    November 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  10. duffey

    Ms. Palin has shown a propensity to want to settle scores. Troopergate is one, and the exculsion of poor Levi is another. She has a very vindictive personality, and from what I have read from the reviews of this book it validates my impression as stated.

    Too bad she wasn't smart enough to layout policy that would distinguish her as a possible leader of the GOP, not just a rageing blammer for her own personal and politcal failures.

    November 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. floridian4USA

    There is no precedent for trying an enemy combatant in an American civil court why do we start now? It is politics, pure an simple. Holder and Obama want to put the previous administration on trial. Let's not be fooled by all the rhetoric.

    November 18, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  12. Ed Tallahassee

    I think that New Yorkers are some of the Toughest People in the World, and if you are dumb enough to mess with them, then you should have to face them. I think it was a good call, because the people of New York deserve justice in a New York courtroom.

    November 18, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  13. neena

    I believe the Holder is correct in bring these man to NY. The United States has VERY strong institutions to address the brutality these men caused. Also, we American's tend to forget very quickly brutalities like the one these men caused. Having the trial in NY will bring back memories but it will make us strong... We are nation of strength and compassion….Let’s give these guys the death plenty!

    November 18, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. David Beck

    Mr. Holder obviously has no understanding of the difference between militiary and civilian law. The civilian courts are not designed for war criminals, or non-state actors who fight us ("marauders" under the Geneva Conventions). Military tribubals have always been how international armies have operated under the Laws of War.

    November 18, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. stevegee

    The only reason Holder and Obama want this to be a criminal trial is so that can drag the Bush Administration and its interrogation practices through the mud (i.e. liberal media).

    Can you say hidden agenda?

    November 18, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  16. Gerry

    Does this man know that everyone in the jury the judge and their families will need protection for the rest of their lives. This will close down or slow down New York for years. Get the politics out of this and do the right thing. Senator Jack Reed said that if any of them were not convicted that the US would not let them go anyway. Is this how we are showing the rest of the world that are system is fair?

    November 18, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  17. Trang, Fremont, CA

    Boy, I am glad Republicans are not in charge. They are so paranoid.

    November 18, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  18. Angie, NH

    Washington, D.C. is not a place for the meek. Kudos to the Attorney General for standing up to do what's right. The detainees should be charged, and justice should move forward. To keep them warehoused forever does not make sense.

    We're moving on without the dead weight of the weak. The chicken hawks will talk, while others clean up their mess and do their dirty work. The stench of the Bush years is still in the air, and I can't wait to get rid of the odor.

    November 18, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
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