Attorney General Eric Holder lashed out Tuesday on Capitol Hill at his critics who allege that terrorism suspects would be given extra rights if they are tried in a civilian court instead of a military commission.
Holder told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee that claims that only a military court would aggressively prosecute terrorism suspects, such as self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “tends to get my blood boiling.” He said terrorism suspects in civilian courts, like murderers, aren’t being “coddled” and handled in “an inappropriate or special way.”
“They have the same rights that a Charles Manson would have,” Holder said.
Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said the Attorney General’s analogy was “incredible,” since the United States is at war with terrorist groups. He said most Americans see terrorism suspects like KSM as war criminals, not mass murderers like Manson.
“This is where the disconnect between the administration and your mindset is so completely opposite that of where the vast majority of the American people are,” Culberson said.
Holder rejected a hypothetical situation proposed by Culberson in which bin Laden had the rights of American citizens in a civilian court.
“You’re talking about a hypothetical that would never occur. The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in a U.S. courtroom. That’s the reality,” said Holder.
Last November, Holder announced that KSM and four of his alleged co-conspirators would be tried in a New York federal court instead of before a military commission. But the White House has faced pressure from both sides of the aisle to reverse Holder’s decision, and President Barack Obama is now personally involved in selecting the location of the KSM trial.
Obama is close to recommending that KSM and four alleged co-conspirators be tried before a military tribunal instead of a civilian court. Holder said the final decision is only weeks, not months, away.
Holder said he is willing to use military commissions for terrorism suspects, but doesn’t want to rule out civilian courts.
“We remain committed to using all of the tools that we have to try to win this war,” Holder said.
Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the subcommittee chairman, said military commissions and civilian courts can both be used appropriately to handle terrorism prosecutions. He noted that about 300 defendants in terrorism cases have been successfully prosecuted in federal courts.
“I think it would be a mistake to categorically deny you access to the civilian system, especially in light of its established track record of success in terrorism prosecutions,” Mollohan said. He added: “The decision about whether to try a case in a civilian court is best left for the Department of Justice to determine, void of politics, just as was done in the previous administration.”
Holder appeared before the subcommittee to detail the Justice Department’s fiscal 2011 budget request. It includes $73 million to be used for the prosecution of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.