November 18th, 2009
02:10 PM ET
5 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. LacrosseDad

    You are a treasure to the Republican victory in 2010-2012 Eric...please keep it up.

    November 18, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  2. SLM

    Well ofcourse he does, this is par for the course for this administration.....terrorists rights first, over the rights of American citizens lives. Just look at Obamas cabinet, he has former terrorists working in his administration.

    November 18, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  3. Bill

    Holder has no idea what he is doing. This man was not a good pick and he shows it everytime he makes a decision.

    November 18, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  4. JB - NYC

    Still hoping?

    November 18, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I was one that was in agreement with McCain and many others to have these men tried in a military tribunal, based on the possibility of exacting stricter sentencing for them. However, upon further review, if they are going for the death penalty at trial then I can't see anything stiffer than that. Try them wherever you want, but make them pay for their crimes with their lives. May God forgive me.

    November 18, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  6. mjm

    "Before (his military) commissions last year..."

    So why change it? If commissions were good enough to charge him, why can't he be tried in the court where charges were brought?

    "failure is not an option. ... These are cases that have to be won."

    Is this guy for real? Did he ever practice law? A defense lawyer will have the case thrown out on this comment alone.

    Good luck finding a non-biased jury after the AG's comments

    November 18, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  7. Steve Dallas

    There is nothing good that will come of trying these foreign terrorists in a U.S. court. This should have been handled by military trials. More and more, we see how incompetent Obama and his administration really is.

    November 18, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  8. Madeleine

    Holding trials in NYC for the plotters of 9/11 serves neither justice nor protects and preserves the public welfare. First of all, New York is the scene of the catastrophic even, and all New Yorkers are the victims. Victims should not be jurors if the intent is to have a fair trial. Al Qaeda did not need an act of Congress to declare war on the US. This trial should be in a military tribunal. It should not be at the further financial and emotional expense of New Yorkers. Revenge, is not justice.

    If one bomb goes off, and the streets of NYC turn into a blood bath like we have seen in Peshawar, the credibility of the Obama admission will be kaput. Holder's decision is incredibly stupid, short sighted, and irresponsible. And the shame is that innocent people may suffer for it.

    Besides, the surpreme gall of AG Holder challenging the courage of New Yorkers! We have nothing to prove to AG Holder or anyone in the world, least of all Al Qaeda. We should not be holding a trial for some dubious concept of justice, or for the appearance of not being fearful. What utter nonsense, what extraordinary lunancy on the part of a high official of state.

    November 18, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  9. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    What the terrorists did is despicable. I cannot say that they deserve to die. I think it would be better for them to be given life sentences–their consciousness haunting them is punishment enough. These are not depraved me. They know what they did is wrong. Let them live for the rest of their lives knowing they have innocent blood on their hands.

    Only God can judge.

    November 18, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  10. unshrub

    I know this is difficult for many republicans to understand, but Holder's decision is based on the law and not on his personal views.

    November 18, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  11. Aaron

    I'm getting pretty sick of listening to whining GOPers trying to claim that our U.S. judicial system can't deal with these cases.

    November 18, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  12. Avalon

    We currently have people held in other countries as spies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Should we really start trying these men in our courts? Convicting them? Executing them? Is that the path that we wish to embark on for our soldiers?

    November 18, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  13. farmerbrown

    Bad mistake here. By US Law, these individuals are to be tried by Military Court. It is not that I think Holder and the Federal Prosecutors will not press for conviction as hard as a Military Tribunal, it is simply a deviation from Law already in effect. This sets a bad precedent. It opens the door for any War Criminal to request a Civilian Trial. As a final comment, the reason the “War Criminals” held at Gitmo have not been placed on Military Trial is that the War on Terrorism is still being waged. These guys should not be tried until we understand the full depth and breadth of their conspiracy and their ties to the larger terrorist network. There may be much opportunity for more indictments and other arrests here or abroad as the War progresses. That is standard War Crimes process. No different that WWII or Korea.

    November 18, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  14. Mark

    "we are at war" What? Then why are these cases in civilian court?

    November 18, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    The Obstructionists always have time to badmouth and badger. Just no time to do their job for the PEOPLE.

    November 18, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  16. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    I could not figure out what Kyl's problem is about trying these guys in NYC, or Guillani either. Since that is where the attack took place it is most appropriate to tri them there. Just don't waste time getting them in from of a judge and jury.

    November 18, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. KyleIM

    There can be no doubt that the opposition to this decision is purely political. Every point that opposition seeks to make is either contradicted by past actions or statements, or is factually inaccurate. It is the discretion of the DOJ to try these people in the forum they deem best suited. Our elected officials need to be careful about giving the impression that they in any way doubt the strength and ability of our fair and just criminal justice system. We're a nation of laws, not cowboys. Let's deal with these scumbags, but let's do it according to the Constitution that elected officials claim to protect.

    November 18, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Marc

    Say that, for any reason that might happen, KSM or any of the other four does decide to use the trial as a platform for his ideology like some relatives of 9/11 are affraid of (which is the opposite that had been happening)... WHO WILL LISTEN TO THE RANTS???
    I mean, besides the terrorists that are ALREADY bent on destroying the 'Ocidental' (USA and Europe up front) values and really doesn't need any more fuel or excuse to their actions... WHO???
    Besides, any good imam can easily destroy and debunk the hateful farce of religious 'beliefs' that supports the Al Qaeda points of view, or even anyone that has a minimal knowledge of the Koran (or Qu'ran).

    November 18, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  19. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    After years and YEARS and YEARS of waisted opportunity for Republicans to take care of this, when they had the Oval Office AND the House and Senate, and as they lost control for a myriad of reasons, they failed, neglected or elected to do nothing with these guys...
    NOW, when a take action White House actually moves to resolve this situation, Republicans STILL have nothing but "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!"

    EXACTLY, what should you have done YEARS AGO that you expect this administration to do now? Got no answer??? Then PLEASE just sit back and let professionals take care of this.

    America is capable of exercising it's constitution and Americans are more than capable of resolving the situation, in compliance with US and International laws, in a way that will show American's strength and commitment to the rule of law, instead of the arrogant "We Rule" attitude of the last administration.

    November 18, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Idiot_Pelosi

    Holder messed up, plain and simple.

    He and OBUMMER failed to recognize the negative side effects of this not-so-brilliant decision.

    This is what happens when you let inexperience liberals in the WH.

    November 18, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  21. Dan

    He politically used the same word "cowards" that he already used on Americans. We need a non-coward AG, not a third-rate politician.

    November 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  22. T'SAH from Virginia

    Those who feel the trials SHOULD NOT be in New York must FEAR our judicial system!!! CASE and POINT!!!

    A lot of HIGH CLASS, RICH and FAMOUS were able to BEAT our system because of $$$$$$$ and other FAVORS from judges, etc. Not the POOR or UNFORTUNATE – the jails are FILLED with them while the REAL criminals walk the streets.

    To think these CRIMINALS – and that is what they are because the word TERRORIST can be used on anyone today... take the DC Sniper to name ONE; MEN terrorizing small children and raping them, to name another – are going to WALK FREE is ridiculous. There are laws that still allow us to keep prisoners in jail even if they are found GUILTY!!!

    COME ON NOW – We're supposed to TRUST our Judicial System!!!

    November 18, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. Chuck, Tennessee

    Holder doesn't have a clue. This trial will allow terrorists a forum in our courts, yes. But, it will also give them all the discovery rights of any other American citizen going to trial in federal court. That could be a nightmare as the defense requests classified information. What happens when the feds try to block those requests? Will the judge dismiss the cases because the defendants cannot adequately defend themselves without the classified information? How can you find a jury that has not been bombarded with information about the case? Find twelve people who have been living under a rock for the last few years? What about the nutcases who beleive Pres Bush's Administration planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. What happens if one of them gets on the jury? Answer is a hung jury. Again, this guy is clueless, as is his boss.

    November 18, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  24. bawana

    good for the obama administration,,,may be just a little behind but they are at least attempting to do what they said they were going to ,,close guantanimo bay ,,,i see no reason why the neyw york fed courts could not try these jerks in new york perhaps the real reaon the right wingers are reluctant is the fact that alot of the stuuf they don't want to come out in trial is going to like illegal crap the the previous bush admin did exposing further the naneous crimes bush/cheney commited,,,i can't wait

    November 18, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. bill

    Yup, now the TERRIOST get to be treated like an American citizens.

    KSM has already plead guilty, why do liberials love terriost.

    November 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
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