US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said during an interview [transcript] Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation that no final decision has been reached as to whether accused 9/11 conspirators, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], will be tried in civilian court or by military tribunal. Holder stated that the main goal of the administration is to hold the people responsible for 9/11 accountable in the most effective way possible, and that the administration continues to look at a variety of concerns that have arisen about both possible venues. He indicated that funding restrictions placed by Congress as well as concerns expressed by local officials [JURIST report] will both play an important role in the final decision regarding trial location. Holder reiterated his support for holding the trials in civilian courts [JURIST report] saying that the criminal justice system has been proven an effective location for terrorism trials and that excluding civilian courts as a possible tool in fighting terrorism would ultimately weaken the nation's security. One limitation on military tribunals Holder cited is the ability to sentence a person to death who has pleaded guilty. He indicated that it may not be legal to sentence someone to death who has pleaded guilty before a military tribunal, but noted that the death sentence is an option for a person who has pleaded guilty in civilian court.
Rights groups have repeatedly urged the Obama administration to utilize civilian courts over military commissions for the trials of suspected terrorists. In March, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials [JURIST report] for Mohammed and other suspected terrorists saying that the military commissions system is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed. Also in March, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] 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 White House advisers announced they were 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 and leading the Obama administration to reconsider the decision.