Attorney General Eric Holder defended his decision to try five suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in Manhattan and said they won’t be released in the U.S. if a jury acquits them.
Holder said at a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee he is confident Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four alleged co-conspirators will be tried safely and successfully.
Republicans on the panel repeatedly clashed with Holder, arguing that the suspects should be tried by the military, and victims’ families told Holder they opposed his decision.
“Failure is not an option,” Holder told the lawmakers. “These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect that we’ll have a contrary result.”
The Sept. 11 suspects, being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, will be tried in a courthouse located blocks from where the 2001 World Trade Center attack occurred, Holder announced last week. Republican leaders have said the suspects may pose a safety risk in New York and that the alleged terrorists could be found not guilty on a legal technicality.
In response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, Holder said those deemed by the U.S. to be terrorists wouldn’t be released in the country if a jury failed to convict them.
“That is not a possibility,” Holder said.
If Mohammed isn’t convicted, Grassley said, “then he becomes an enemy combatant and you’re right back where you started. So, what do you gain?”
After the hearing, some family members of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks confronted Holder to say they opposed his decision.
“I take great exception to your decision to give short shrift to military commissions,” said Alice Hoagland of Los Gatos, Calif., whose son, Mark Bingham, was on a hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Holder explained his decision to Hoagland, saying the terrorists would be brought to justice and that “we have put in place a process that will resolve these matters.”
During the hearing, Holder said that, after studying the evidence and circumstances, he concluded “the venue in which we are most likely to obtain justice for the American people is in federal court.”