Holder not ruling out civilian trials for 9/11 suspects

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said Wednesday that the government has not ruled out prosecuting certain high-profile terror suspects in civilian court in New York City. During a hearing [materials] on oversight of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] that the government is still considering trying several high-level terror suspects, including alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. Admitting that finding a proper venue for civilian trials outside the Southern District of New York could pose difficulties, Holder said he had compiled a list of other possibly appropriate venues. Holder said he has taken safety and logistical concerns under advisement and that the DOJ will be ready to decide where to try the suspects "in a number of weeks." Holder also reiterated the Obama administration's goal to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] as quickly as possible. He said that the facility could not be closed until funds have been secured to purchase an alternate site in Illinois [JURIST report] to which the remaining detainees will be transferred. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] praised the administration [ACLU release] for its insistence on trying the suspects in civilian courts, but criticized Holder for saying the government will continue to hold particularly dangerous detainees without charges.

Late last month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] appointed [JURIST report] retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald [official profile] as the convening authority for military commissions [JURIST news archive], leading to speculation that the Obama administration was planning to try the 9/11 conspirators in a military trial. Last month, Holder defended his decision [JURIST report] to try the suspected terrorists in civilian court. The ACLU expressed support [press release] for Holder's decision. Earlier in March, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court. That release came just days after reports that White House advisers were considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Holder announced [JURIST report] that the alleged conspirators would face civilian criminal trials rather than military tribunals late last year.

 

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