Holder defends decision to try attempted plane bombing suspect in federal court

Holder defends decision to try attempted plane bombing suspect in federal court

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Wednesday defended his decision to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court. Holder, who has resisted calls from high-level Republicans [AP Report] to try Abdulmutallab in front of a military tribunal, said that the civilian criminal justice system was capable of handling his trial. In a letter [text, PDF] to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website], Holder cited longstanding government policy, first initiated under former president George W. Bush, that suspects apprehended on US soil are tried in civilian court. Holder also defended his decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda warnings as consistent with FBI policy on custodial interrogations. He said:

The decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab in federal court, and the methods used to interrogate him, are fully consistent with the long-established and publicly known policies and practices of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the United States Government as a whole, as implemented for many years by Administrations of both parties. Those policies and practices, which were not criticized when employed by previous Administrations, have been and remain extremely effective in protecting national security. They are among the many powerful weapons this country can and should use to win the war against al-Qaeda.

I am confident that, as a result of the hard work of the FBI and our career federal prosecutors, we will be able to successfully prosecute Mr. Abdulmutallab under the federal criminal law.

In a speech [text] to the Heritage foundation [advocacy website] Wednesday, McConell said that the Bush administration had been wrong in seeking civilian trials for terrorism suspects as it went against hundreds of precedent and the law of war.

Abdulmutallab was indicted [JURIST report] last month on six counts for allegedly attempting to set off an explosive device on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bound from Amsterdam to Detroit. A plea of not guilty [JURIST report] has been entered on his behalf. A report released last month by New York University's Center on Law and Security [academic website] said that federal courts provide an effective venue [JURIST report] for prosecuting terror suspects, securing convictions in 89 percent of cases since 2001. The Obama administration is reportedly also considering trying [JURIST report] Riduan Isamuddin, the suspected planner of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing [BBC backgrounder] in federal court in Washington DC.