[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Tuesday defended his intention to try suspected terrorists, including accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC Profile; JURIST news archive] in civilian criminal court. Holder faced numerous questions on the issue while testifying [video; prepared testimony, PDF] before a House Appropriations [official website] subcommittee, repeatedly defending the decision to use federal courts, as opposed to military commissions [JURIST news archive]. Holder drew distinctions between individuals to be tried in each venue based on the target of the terrorist act, the evidentiary rules available in each forum, and the national security considerations stemming from each method. Holder then defended the competency of judges in civilian courts in dealing with disruptive defendants, who would attempt to use their trial as a podium for their views. In discussing the possible safety of communities where the trials may be held, Holder said, "[l]ook at history, look at the way in which these cases have been conducted safely, without incident to communities and neighborhoods that surround the courthouses where these cases have been held," specifically citing the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive]. In terms of a timeline for when the final decision on the venue for these trials might be made, Holder indicated that a decision is still "weeks away."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], a group that has been persistent in its advocacy of civilian trials for 9/11 suspects, expressed support [press release] for Holder's decision. Earlier this month, 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 are considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Holder announced in November that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court [JURIST report] in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism. Holder has previously defended his decision [JURIST report] to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [JURIST news archive], the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court.