Attorney General Eric Holder went on the offensive on Monday, using a terrorist’s guilty plea in a New York court to buttress plans to conduct the trials of the 9/11 plotters in civilian courts rather than the military commission system. But congressional Republicans Tuesday were not ready to concede the A.G.’s point of view.
Holder said Monday the criminal justice system is “a valuable tool in our fight against terrorism,” when he announced that Najibullah Zazi had pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb New York’s subway.
However, Republicans continued their opposition to using civilian courts for terrorism suspects, including self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged co-conspirators.
“The Attorney General claims that the plea of Zazi is proof that federal courts can handle the trials of terrorists currently held at Guantánamo Bay,” Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement today. “But comparing the prosecution of Zazi — a legal permanent resident of the U.S. — to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who engaged in an act of war against the U.S. by plotting the mass murder of Americans on 9/11 — is misleading at best.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) dismissed Holder’s latest remarks on the benefits of using the criminal justice system for terrorism suspects.
“I think that terrorists ought to be treated like terrorists, not like common criminals,” Boehner told reporters today, according to The Hill.
Several Republicans and conservative Democrats have signed onto legislation introduced earlier this month in both the Senate and House that would prohibit the Justice Department from using appropriated funds to prosecute KSM and his alleged accomplices in federal court.
The growing pressure from both sides of the aisle has forced Holder to back down on his desire to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in a Manhattan federal court. The Attorney General said earlier this month that the five terrorism suspects might be tried by a military commission. But the Obama administration hasn’t reached a final decision.
Key Democrats, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), continue to stand behind Holder’s handling of terrorism cases.
“[Zazi’s] guilty plea is just the latest example of justice being served by using our counterterrorism tools and the experience of our criminal justice system,” Leahy said, according to The Hill.