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Holder: No Failure In 9/11 Prosecution

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

For the first time, President Obama has acknowledged what his administration had only suggested before, that Guantanamo Bay prison will not close by January. Mr. Obama was speaking with Fox News while on his Asian tour.

SIEGEL: In a separate interview with NBC, the president said the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will be convicted and put to death. He was referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try him in civilian court. Mr. Obama then tempered his remarks.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm not prejudging and I'm not going to be in the courtroom. That's the job of prosecutors, the judge and the jury.

BLOCK: The topic of Guantanamo and the 9/11 trial also got a long hearing on Capitol Hill today. The attorney general testified for hours, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: The moment the hearing started, Republicans accused Attorney General Eric Holder of losing perspective. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama attacked Holder's decision to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others to court in New York rather than military trials.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): I believe this decision is dangerous. I believe it's misguided. I believe it is unnecessary.

SHAPIRO: Sessions charged that the attorney general was treating the war with al-Qaida as a criminal problem. Attorney General Holder said that's not true.

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER: Prosecuting the 9/11 defendants in federal court does not represent some larger judgment about whether or not we are at war. We are at war.

SHAPIRO: Fine, said Democratic Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, but what if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed stands trial and the jury acquits him.

Senator HERB KOHL (Democratic, Wisconsin): What would be your next step, I'm sure you must have talked about it?

SHAPIRO: Holder was unequivocal.

Att. Gen. HOLDER: Failure is not an option. Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don't expect that we will have a contrary result.

SHAPIRO: Kohl called that an interesting point of view and the audience in the hearing room chuckled. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Holder, given how unpredictable juries are, how can you say failure to convict is not an option?

Senator CHUCK GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): It just seemed to me ludicrous, you know, I'm a farmer, not a lawyer but I just want to make that observation.

SHAPIRO: Holder then said the administration has thought about what would happen if high value detainees were acquitted. And he said there are laws preventing dangerous terrorists from being released into the United States.

Att. Gen. HOLDER: And so that if - if there were the possibility that a trial was not successful that would not mean that that person would be released into our country.

SHAPIRO: This was not enough to satisfy Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): How could you be more likely to get a conviction in federal court when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has already asked to plead guilty before a military commission and be executed?

SHAPIRO: In the audience, families of 9/11 victims applauded. Kyl's questioning became more pointed and for the first time in the hearing the perpetually cool attorney general seemed to get upset.

Att. Gen. HOLDER: I'm not going to base the determination on where these cases ought to be brought on what a terrorist - what a murderer wants to do. He will not select the prosecution venue. I will select it and I have.

SHAPIRO: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he is not worried about whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will get convicted. But he still thinks trying KSM in federal court is a terrible idea.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Under domestic criminal law, the moment the person is in the hands of the United States government, they're entitled to be told they have a right to a lawyer and can remain silent. And if we go down that road we're going to make this country less safe. That is my problem with what you have done.

SHAPIRO: Holder call that a red herring.

Att. Gen. HOLDER: The notion that a conviction of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would depend on his getting Miranda rights is simply not accurate.

SHAPIRO: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois added, 9/11 plotter Zaccarias Moussoui was tried and convicted in a civilian court. Durbin quoted Republican former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who praised the Moussoui trial as a symbol of American justice.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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