Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Obama administration will continue to leave the door open for the prosecution of terrorism suspects in civilian courts, despite bipartisan criticism of the Justice Department’s plan to try the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in a Manhattan federal court.
Holder told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at a DOJ oversight hearing that the administration had not yet reached a final decision on whether KSM will be tried in a civilian court or in a military commission. Holder said he expects a decision on the trial location decision in “a number of weeks,” and emphasized that the DOJ will use “every tool available to fight terrorism.”
“As I’ve said from the outset, this is a close call,” Holder said. “It should be clear to everyone by now that there are many legal, national security and practical factors to be considered here. As a consequence, there are many perspectives on what the most appropriate and effective forum is.”
Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, said KSM should not be tried in a civilian court and said he has grown concerned by Holder’s handling of terrorism suspects.
“As you know, I supported your nomination but your actions have shaken my confidence in your leadership at the Justice Department,” Sessions said.
Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) — who chaired the hearing Wednesday so the panel’s Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) could attend a funeral in Vermont — said “legitimate concerns” have been raised about the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism suspects.
“Reasonable minds can differ on these issues, but we can all agree that the decision you make will have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact on our fight against terrorism and our ability to keep Americans safe,” Kohl said.