Attorney General Eric Holder today defended his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attack, and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees in New York federal court, saying “I know that we are at war.”
“The 9/11 attacks were both an act of war and a violation of our federal criminal law, and they could have been prosecuted in either federal courts or military commissions. Courts and commissions are both essential tools in our fight against terrorism,” Holder said in prepared remarks for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
In supporting his decision, Holder noted that “there are more than 300 convicted international and domestic terrorists currently in Bureau of Prisons custody, including those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,” “we can protect classified material during trial” and “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will have no more of a platform to spew his hateful ideology in federal court than he would have in military commissions.”
“There are some who have said this decision means that we have reverted to a pre-9/11 mentality, or that we don’t realize this nation is at war,” Holder said. “…Prosecuting the 9/11 defendants in federal court does not represent some larger judgment about whether or not we are at war. We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power – civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and others – to win. We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready.”
During today’s hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Holder he made “a fundamental mistake” with his decision.
“We’re making bad history here,” Graham said, according to Fox News Channel. “The big problem I have is that you’re criminalizing the war. … I think you’ve made a fundamental mistake here.”
He later issued a statement saying he wouldn’t comment further. “I have been asked by the White House to withhold comment about today’s Guantanamo decision until I can meet face-to-face with the President after he returns from Asia. As our Commander in Chief, I will honor his request.”
Meanwhile, a new CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans believe that terror suspects should be tried in closed military courts.