Former Attorney General Eric Holder is still angry about the political uproar that derailed his attempt in 2009 to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court.
“I was mad then. I am mad now,” Holder told interviewer Tina Brown at the American Justice Summit event on Jan. 29 in New York City. “I was damn right, and the people who opposed me were damn wrong.”
Holder has openly been complaining about his thwarted plans since at least 2013 - a complaint that implicates even his friend President Barack Obama, who failed to back him up.
Holder announced in November 2009 that he planned to bring KSM to justice in federal court in Manhattan, just blocks from the World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the al-Qaeda attack on Sept. 11, 2001. But conservatives including his predecessor as Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, condemned the decision, while local politicians worried about the expense and potential security threat posed by a trial.
The critics said Mohammed should be tried in a military tribunal, not a civilian court that would grant more rights to the confessed maestro of the 9/11 attacks.
Today, Mohammed still sits in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, awaiting a “pre-trial conference, or something like that,” as Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara earlier said at the conference. Meanwhile, other terrorists, including Osama bin Laden’s son in law, have been convicted in Manhattan and elsewhere, Bharara said.
The former AG let Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona off the hook, implying their opposition to a civil trial was principled. “But for others the mantra was… ‘You, Holder, want to give rights to these people, the same rights you want to give to ordinary American citizens.’ For the life I me I thought, what the hell does that mean?” he said.
Holder said he simply wanted to hold Mohammed accountable. “Plus, I want to do it here. I want to do it here. In New York City where the offense actually occurred. And everybody was with were us for a while. Then people starting to find jelly in their spines. Not only at the federal level but at the local level as well.
“I think the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is still sitting in Guantanamo essentially thumbing his nose at the American people is great testament to what happens when politician decide to become involved in the criminal justice system,” he said.
Holder also said he was ready to “name names.” He took aim at New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
“I think her opposition was political in nature. And she’s got to face the voters this time in New Hampshire. And I hope that the people of new Hampshire will ask her that question,” Holder said.
View the video of Holder’s appearance here. It’s toward the end, at about the 6 hour 10 minute mark.