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Holder Goes on Offense
Posted By Ryan J. Reilly On February 22, 2010 @ 8:24 pm In News | Comments Disabled
A smile spread across Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller’s face as Attorney General Eric Holder answered a final question at his press conference announcing that Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York.
After telling  The New York Times that he had to do a better job in explaining his decisions and be more forceful in advocating for why he believed terrorism trials should be held on the civilian side, Holder seemed to do just that on Monday.
Holder was well prepared for his 20-minute press conference in the seventh floor conference room of the Robert F. Kennedy building, and used the guilty plea to hit back at critics of the Justice Department’s handling of terrorism cases. As part of the media strategy , Holder made several strong statements in easily digestible soundbites – making it clear that the U.S. is at war with an adaptable enemy and arguing that leaving a number of options available for handling terrorism suspects is the best way to prevent attacks.
Holder was flanked by interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Benton J. Campbell (a George W. Bush appointee) and Deputy FBI Director John S. Pistole.
In his first press conference focusing on terrorism issues since he announced the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, Holder forcefully defended the use of civilian courts as a tool to use against terrorism.
Framing the idea of removing the option of putting terrorism suspects through the criminal justice system as “handcuffing” federal law enforcement officials, Holder struck back at critics of his use of civilian courts for terror suspects. Holder cited the Zazi case as an example of the use of civilian courts.
“This is a demonstration of the facts,” Holder said about the case. “This is not some kind of partisan, political attempt to shape something for purposes of an election. I’m only dealing here with the facts. Let’s look at the history, let’s look at the factual material and on that basis make a determination about how these matters will be handled.”
He also struck back at Republican critics of his handling of terror cases. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, among others, have sharply criticized  Holder for his decision to move the trial to civilian courts, arguing that military courts are the more proper venue.
In the news conference Monday, Holder reiterated his preference for using that U.S. civilian courts to try terrorists.
The criminal justice system, Holder said, is “a valuable tool in our fight against terrorism. It doesn’t mean it is the only tool that we should use.
“To take this tool out of our hands to denigrate the use of this tool flies in the face of the facts, in the face of the history of this tool, is more about politics than it is about facts,” he said.
“We need not make more of these people than they are. [They] are thugs. They are people who engaged in criminal warlike activities against the United States but they are people who are not different from people we have shown we have the ability to handle in the past,” Holder added.
Holder stayed on message, declining to take a position on the Office of Professional Responsibility report  released Friday that found former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee exhibited “poor judgment” in approving memos that allowed the use of waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques.
This story has been updated since it was first posted.
Video embedded below.
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