[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Monday praised the role [press release] of the civilian criminal justice system in obtaining a guilty plea from suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi. Zazi pleaded guilty [press release; JURIST report] on Monday to three criminal charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the US and to commit murder in a foreign country, as well as of providing material support for al Qaeda. Holder indicated [AP report] that opposition to using civilian courts to try terror suspects was based on politics rather than facts. He also said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] would continue using civilian courts as a tool for trying terrorists, stating:
We are at war against a dangerous, intelligent and adaptable enemy, and we must use every weapon available to win that war. In this case, as it has in so many other cases, the criminal justice system has proved to be an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists, one that works in concert with the intelligence community and our military. We will continue to use it to protect the American people from terrorism.
As I have stated on other occasions, the criminal justice system also contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence that can be used in the fight against Al Qaeda. We will use all available tools whenever possible against suspected terrorists.
Holder has been criticized [FOX News op-ed] for his stance on using the justice system rather than relying on military tribunals to prosecute suspected terrorists.
Holder's statement of support for the civilian criminal justice system comes one week after he indicated that the DOJ would be "flexible" [JURIST report] when deciding where to try 9/11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. He indicated that that a military tribunal must be considered in the wake of mounting public and political pressure, but that a civilian trial would help to ensure "swift, sure justice." Holder expressed the same sentiments [JURIST report] in an interview conducted by the Washington Post earlier this month, stating that more important than the location or forum is that the trial be transparent and adhere to the rules. The possibility of a civilian trial, first announced [JURIST report] in November, has received backlash from both New York City officials and members of Congress, including some who support closing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].