Holder Hearing: Stats, Shenaningans and Security Concerns

By Katie Fourmy, Human Rights First Program Assistant/Office Manager, Government Advocacy

Just days after announcing that he would move the cases of five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attack to a regular federal court, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a four-hour hearing filled with stats, shenanigans and security concerns.

Stat Wars: Senators Hatch and Kyl wanted to know just what AG Holder means by, “195 successfully prosecuted,” when he refers to accused terrorists tried in federal courts. We’ll clear it up. In our recent study of 119 terrorism cases with 289 defendants and filed since 2001 in the normal federal court system, Human Rights First found that of the 214 defendants whose cases were resolved as of June 2, 2009, 195 were convicted either by verdict or by a guilty plea. By contrast, the military commissions are a failed system that has secured only 3 convictions. So there’s the stat for you.

Shenanigans: Let’s start with decorum and avoiding shenanigans. In clearing up misinformation that had been circulating since the announcement, Mr. Holder rebutted critics who claim that a federal court trial will give KSM more of a platform to share his ideologies than would a military commission. He reminded us that bringing KSM to face trial in a federal court will require all in the courtroom, not just the defendant, to maintain proper behavior. Let’s hope this will save us the misery of listening to KSM spew all kinds of incendiary remarks… again. We don’t want to relive his first appearance in a military court.

Another shenanigan: Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Senator Durbin brought up that in 2006, Rudy Giuliani hailed the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in Eastern Virginia courts, just miles away from the Pentagon, as a “symbol of American justice.” Unfortunately, when AG Holder authorizes a federal trial of a 9/11 suspect, Mr. Giuliani steps out as one of the key opponents to the trial. For a more tongue-in-cheek version of his flip-flopping, check out:

Security Concerns: Thankfully, the fearmongering was nearly absent from yesterday’s hearing. It’s about time. I think it’s clear to most now that bringing these suspected terrorists to justice in United States federal courts will not put our citizens in great danger. In fact, it makes us safer. Thirty-two military leaders back AG Holder’s decision, and they remind us that keeping Gitmo open and continuing the system as is only puts us and our armed forces in great danger as we engender more hate and fear.

I’ll end with what I found to be the AG’s most resounding point of the day. When Senator Kyl asked Holder why he thinks that a federal court is the best location for this trial when KSM has already stated that he wants to plead guilty in a military commission and be sentenced to death, Holder’s response was simple. AG Holder’s decisions have nothing to do with KSM and his whims of trial location. “He [KSM] will not select his prosecution venue. I will select it,” asserted the Attorney General.

Next goal: Closing Guantánamo and transferring detainees suspected of crimes for trial before tried and true civilian courts in the United States.

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Published on November 19, 2009

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