Former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Friday criticized the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute a group of terrorism suspects accused in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court, warning of safety risks to Americans and the possibility that national security information could be aired in civilian proceedings.
His speech to the conservative Federalist Society — of which he is a member — came hours after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed “mastermind” of the attacks, and four other men accused in the plot would face charges in the Southern District of New York.
Mukasey, echoing concerns he outlined in a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, said granting the suspects access to civilian courts would present a “cornucopia [of intelligence] for those still at large and a circus for those in custody.”
Mukasey, who supports trying terrorism suspects in military commissions at Guantanamo, said KSM will be “a virtually totemic figure” in prison, potentially radicalizing others. Mukasey said he wasn’t worried about the suspects breaking free but feared holding them in New York would make the city a renewed target for attack.
The question is whether the city will become the focus of new “mischief in the form of murder,” said Mukasey, who presided over the 1995 trial in New York of the “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, who was implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and convicted for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.
At a news conference Friday, Holder said the Justice Department “has a long, successful history of prosecuting terrorists for their crimes against our nation, particularly in New York.”
He went on:
Although these cases can often be complex and challenging, federal prosecutors have successfully met these challenges and have convicted a number of terrorists who are now serving lengthy sentences in our prisons. And although the security issues presented by terrorism cases should never be minimized, our marshals, court security officers, and prison officials have extensive experience and training dealing with dangerous defendants, and I am confident they can meet the security challenges posed by this case.
Mukasey spent much of his speech lashing out at the Obama administration for reversing national securtiy policies under President George W. Bush, but he credited his successor for leaving intact intelligence-gathering methods used by the FBI and for continuing to deploy the controversial state stecrets privilege.
Mukasey, Bush’s third Attorney General, was introduced by Gerald Walpin, the former inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
President Barack Obama fired Walpin this summer, amid a federal probe into whether he overstepped his authority while investigating a Sacramento-based non-profit foundation. Walpin was recently cleared of wrongdoing, and has asked to be reinstated. His firing has become a rallying cry for conservatives who accuse the Obama administration of removing Walpin for political reasons.
Mukasey said Walpin was “unceremoniously” and “unlawfully” removed.
Click here for a video of the panel on C-SPAN.
This post has been updated.