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Holder: 9/11 terror suspects should have been tried in civilian court

US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said [C-SPAN video clip] at an unrelated press conference on Monday that the slow pace of the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the alleged mastermind behind 9/11, would have been avoided had he been tried before a federal civilian court. The military trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other co-conspirators, which is still in its pre-trial stages, is not expected to begin for at least another year. Four years ago, Holder announced a plan [JURIST report] to try the defendants in federal court in lower Manhattan. However, in 2011 Holder referred the cases to the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US. Holder stated on Monday that time has demonstrated that his initial decision to try the defendants in civilian courts was the right one: "We would not have had to close down half of Manhattan, we would not have had to spend $200 million dollars a year, and the defendants would be on death row as we speak. ... I think this is an example of what happens when politics gets into matters that ought to be simply decided by lawyers and by national security experts."

Mohammed faces charges of of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft and terrorism. He could face the death penalty if convicted. In January the DOD announced that it would not withdraw charges of conspiracy [JURIST report] against five accused plotters, after the chief Guantanamo prosecutor asked the DOD's appointee to dismiss the prosecution charge in order to avoid uncertainty that could delay the case. The DOD referred charges [JURIST report] to a military commission in April 2012 against Mohammed and four other alleged conspirators, drawing criticism from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the trials should take place in federal court. In May 2011 the DOD announced that it had sworn charges against the five men [JURIST report] for the 9/11 attacks.

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