Attorney General Eric Holder said at various times over the last year that he is near a decision on the venue for the prosecution of the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. But at a House hearing on Tuesday, Holder said he was done with making predictions.
“Obviously, I can’t predict timing very well,” Holder said.
The Attorney General announced in November 2009 that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged accomplices would be tried in a Manhattan federal court as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But the prospect died amid backlash from Republicans and Democrats, and the White House stepped in to take a more hands-on role in the matter.
Critics of the plan raised concerns about the security costs for a trial in downtown New York, the possibility that the defendants might be able to use the courtroom as a public venue to spread propaganda and the chance that the defendants might be found not guilty.
Since Holder’s announcement, the White House has said that it would consider using military commissions for the prosecutions and is considering other places for a civilian trial.
In April 2010, the Attorney General said he anticipated a decision in “a number of weeks.” In November, he said he was “close to a decision.”
On Tuesday, Holder told members of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee that he continued to work on his decision and the Obama administration’s plan to shutter the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which currently holds about 175 terrorism suspects.
“Guantanamo serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda; all of the intelligence tells us that,” Holder said. “It has served as a wedge between the United States and some of its traditional allies. Countless numbers of people who are steeped in these issues, Republicans as well as Democrats, have indicated that the closure of Guantanamo will help us fight against those who have sworn to do harm to the American people and American interests around the world.”
But the Attorney General said he didn’t know whether the facility would be closed before the end of Obama’s first term in 2013. The president, tacking to post-election political winds, already abandoned a self-imposed deadline to shutter the facility by January 2010. Congress has prohibited the Obama administration from moving Guantanamo detainees to the United States for detention or prosecution.
Holder came before the subcommittee to testify about the DOJ’s $28.2 billion fiscal 2012 budget request, which includes funds to activate a Thomson, Ill., correctional facility that had been slated for Guantanamo Bay detainees. But the Attorney General said the facility would be used for maximum-security prisoners, not Guantanamo detainees because of the restrictions Congress put on the transfer of the detainees.