Attorney General Eric Holder spent his yesterday defending his decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators in the civilian courts of Manhattan. After hours of grueling inquiry from members of Congress, Holder then took questions and concerns from family members of 9/11 victims.
Members of Congress expressed concern over confusing the legal rights of detainees and Constitutional rights granted to US citizens. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina commented, “The big problem I have is that you’re criminalizing the war. You’re confusing the people fighting the war . . . .” Family members of 9/11 victims expressed concern for the safety of New York City. Alice Hoagland, whose late son Mark Bingham is credited as one of the four Flight 93 passengers who rushed the compromised cockpit, fears the 9/11 trials will make New York a target.
The concerns expressed by both members of Congress and family members of 9/11 victims are valid. There is no denying that Holder’s decision to try these five 9/11 suspects in a civilian court is controversial. Given the Executive Branch’s questionable use of military commissions in our not so distant past, the Attorney General’s decision to put his faith in US federal courts, with their promise of due process and other Constitutional guarantees is a distinct break from the previous administration. Secrecy and executive privilege have defined the Executive Branch for the past eight years. Holder’s decision to try these alleged co-conspirators in civilian courts is a step in a better direction.
For a comprehensive discussion on the differences between civilian courts and military commissions, and the potential impact of Holder’s decision, see Ann Woolner’s commentary.