Eric Holder Testimony and Analysis

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder is testifying this morning about his decision to try self-professed 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Manhattan civilian court. We play extended cuts, and Slate's senior editor Dahlia Lithwick offers analysis.


Dahlia Lithwick

Comments [45]

kai from NJ-NYC

@ Edward - You're right; Graham's logic doesn't hold up.

Each case is different with different circumstances, so broad categories don't work. That is why Holder is applying a protocol to each specific case in order to determine what works best for prosecution.

Nov. 18 2009 02:05 PM
Edward from NJ

Lindsay Graham's alleged stumper question about historical precedents was based on the premise that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured on the battlefield. He was captured by Pakistani intelligence and turned over to the US. Is that the "battlefield"? If he had been captured in Germany by the German government, would that be the "battlefield"? If he had been captured in Canada, would that have been the "battlefield"? If he had been captured in Kansas, would that have been the "battlefield"?

Nov. 18 2009 01:25 PM
Timothy Stutters from New York


Yes, Obama's brilliant, but he'd be the first to admit that he's human, and as such, fallible. The 2008 elections were not, for me, so much about a cult of personality, but a fresh inspiration for activism. So, I think it behooves both Obama and the country for us to keep asking questions when his policies trouble us.

Holder didn't inspire much confidence. He should have been better able to defend his position. Military tribunals don't work, courts do. And I would add (though I know Holder couldn't say this): If we are criminalizing the war, then we are criminalizing the war, for the war was criminal.

Which is why we should hold the trial in a Federal court; just not in New York.

Nov. 18 2009 12:44 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

@ Kirsten - To reiterate what hjs stated earlier:

Why should Americans care about what terrorists think? Onstensibly Americans want rule of law, so that's why trials are a good thing and why judicial institutions should be supported and used accordingly as they have been used SUCCESSFULLY for over 200 years. That is the point of what I wrote earlier.

The only thing nutty is confusing American interests and concerns with those of terrorists.

Nov. 18 2009 12:28 PM
hjs from 11211

fine with me, but it's not my call. i trust the judgement of those who we elected (and those who they chose to assist them)

Nov. 18 2009 12:07 PM
Timothy Stutters from New York


Re-reading, I think you meant to say "trial," not "trail."

The reason I am opposed to it is because having a trial here is hurtful and disrespectful to thousands of our residents. 911 carries tons of emotional baggage, and it's cynicism at its worst to ignore that in favor of the media fanfare certain to surround a NYC trial.

I want a trial, and there should be one. But there's no reason to have it in New York, when it clearly offends so many here more than it would offend others elsewhere.

Nov. 18 2009 12:06 PM
Luis Santiago from Downtown NYC

As a resident of Lower Manhattan, I support Holder's decision to try KSM (and I hope Bin Laden) in New York's Criminal Court. This is the community where most damage was done by the terrorist action he masterminded. The message would be clear: if you do something like that, we will find you, and prosecute you as a criminal. I find ironic that the most vocal opposition comes from hardline military supporters like Giuliani and the rest of the GOP. They are happy to take the USA war against terror to other countries, with all the "collateral" (as in civilian deaths) damage that this is causing. However, they are now spreding fear among New Yorkers about the impact of having KSM tried here in our criminal court system. There's absolutely no evidence that this would increase the likelihood of terrorist targetting NY again. Trying KSM in a military tribunal somewhere outside New York would be a triumph for the terrorists, as far as I am concerned.

Nov. 18 2009 12:04 PM
Susan from Kingston

I think that those of you suggesting a Federal Court in VA forget that the biggest loss of life was here in New York City. A lot of people in New York City would like to see justice. No doubt there will be a media frenzy, but that is how they make their living, creating spectacles!

Nov. 18 2009 11:59 AM
Timothy Stutters from New York


I'd like a trail as well. Why wouldn't there be one if the trial was held in a Federal court in VA?

Nov. 18 2009 11:54 AM
kay boyd from Brooklyn, NY

A la guerre comme a la guerre. 911 was not an attack on NYC alone (Pentagon, plane downed in PA on way to WashDC, perhaps), lest we forget.
An act of war ought to be treated as such, in Military Court. But, perhaps, there would be "TARP" monies to cover security, etc... etc.. should trial take place in my City. Not worth exasperating the pain. Cruel, expedient.

Nov. 18 2009 11:51 AM
hjs from 11211

"terrorists don't give a darn how are justice system works "
we don't care what terrorists think. it's everyone else that this sends a message to. we are a nation of laws, that's a message we can be proud to send the world.

Nov. 18 2009 11:49 AM
Mike from Manhattan from NYC

1. The critics of this decision are rank, right wing political activists who seek to undermine pubic trust in every decision made by the Obama administration.

2. These things (I can't even call them people) who are to be tried are not soldiers or warriors. They are mass murdering monsters and whenever they are treated as soldiers their status is elevated. A Nazi or Japanese soldier had rights and a level of dignity under the Geneva Convention that cannot be granted to terrorists. The Bush administration acknowledged that the terrorists are not to be granted Geneva Convention rights and protections. But they wanted a war environment for their own political purposes (and the result and proof of this was the invasion of Iraq while ignoring bin Laden when he might have been captured in Torra Borra mountains). So they invented the category and even the term "Enemy Combatants" which has no precedence in law.

3. Kalid Muhammed should be tired like Jeffry Dahmer and other psychopathic detritus who commit mass murder in the United States. Some may think this is dangerous, but it is the most public display of our American ideals and beliefs. If we fail to uphold our ideals and beliefs then the terrorists are right to call us hypocrites who all tyrant regimes create laws into privileges only for ourselves.

Nov. 18 2009 11:47 AM
hjs from 11211

ok that was not clear from your comment.

i'm a citizen of this city and i'd like a trail. several other posters agree with me.

Nov. 18 2009 11:42 AM
Kirsten Jiminiez from Bronx

@#30 - Holder's decision is a victory against terrorists just like shopping was...terrorists don't give a darn how are justice system works and it's nutty to think they do

Nov. 18 2009 11:42 AM
Daniel from Washington Heights

What are the double jeopardy implications here?

Can we put him through military AND civilian trials?

We should take him to court in a class action civil suit too.

Nov. 18 2009 11:40 AM
kai from NJ-NYC

Misinformation is rampant all over the U.S. as disseminated by those who seek ultimate military power in a world where the military CAN ONLY BE ONE option to solve complicated issues, like terrorism, among other things.

Terrorism is a tactic and cannot be considered a strategy based in traditional warfare and are acts carried out by agents unaffiliated with traditional state-sponsored force, but a new complicated paradigm of criminal-war. Thus new paradigms need new has to be dealt with through law enforcement, intelligence services, the judicial system, diplomacy, policy, the military, among others.

Military tribunals have proven NOT to work and federal courts have. Holder's decision is a victory for rule of law and justice, just what the terrorists are trying to disrupt and many hawks unwittingly support.

Nov. 18 2009 11:39 AM

Hold on Holder, I thought the Pentagon qualifies as a military target, as would any government entity.

Nov. 18 2009 11:38 AM
Timothy Stutters from New York


I understand that the Feds have a death penalty, and they can legally try him here. That's not the issue. The issue is about respecting the citizens of this city. 911 is emotional for many of us, and not all of us want to see the trial here. Especially since many of us oppose the death penalty on principle, no matter how heinous the crime.

Honestly, the whole thing is just a media spectacle. There is no good legal reason to have the trial here.

So hold it in a Federal court in Virginia, I say, instead of turning a trial into a reality show.

Nov. 18 2009 11:37 AM
hjs from 11211

not true. everyone has rights!

Nov. 18 2009 11:36 AM
KC from Manhattan

"Not Eric Holder's finest moment"?!?! This is not American Idol or Miss America. Prosecuting in a way that is consistent with American law and our values should not be based upon how sexy the job can be done in Dahlia Lithwick's opinion.

Nov. 18 2009 11:36 AM
Susan from Kingston

Osama bin Laden should be tried here as well.

Nov. 18 2009 11:36 AM
Dan Welsh from South Salem, NY

In questioning Attorney General Holder, Lindsay Graham used the contrived "enemy combatants" term, pre-judging the issue in effect. He said we had never tried EC's picked up on the battlefield. We have however tried criminals extradited from other countries. It can certainly be done and Graham's line of questioning actually is a veiled promotion the expansion of executive power and militarism.

Nov. 18 2009 11:36 AM
josh from NYC

Isn't the Miranda Rights question moot in that it only applies to U.S. Citizens and obviously Bin Laden is not a U.S. Citizen?

Nov. 18 2009 11:34 AM
Kirsten Jiminiez from Bronx

wow - Holder is such a lightweight - in over his head - seems like another case of affirmative action

Nov. 18 2009 11:34 AM
Paul from Ridgewood NJ

Another comment:
Clearly Holder was not properly prepped for this "attack" from Mr. Graham. Holder's decisions are sound enough, but sometimes preparation is everything. How sad.

Nov. 18 2009 11:33 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

The eight years of the Bush-Cheney (Cheney-Bush?) administration so extended the power of the executive and so altered the functioning of the judiciary that we have forgotten how our judicial system is supposed to function.

Nov. 18 2009 11:32 AM
Nate from Manhattan

It strikes me that the same people who worshipped President Bush when he told Osama bin Laden to "Bring it on!" are the same people who are now afraid to let our system of justice run its course. I thought we were supposed to ignore the terrorists and just go about our business, i.e. "Go shopping". If we let FEAR of what the terrorists might do dictate what we do, then we are achieving for the terrorists the very goal they are after. That is the definition of terrorism.

I think Mr. Holder's decision does not go far enough. The prisoners in Guantanamo are accused of criminal acts and all of them should be accused in civilian courts. I trust our system of justice. What I do not trust is ANY INDIVIDUAL (benevolent though they may be) determining who should or should not get their day in court. Our founders specifically set up a system to prevent that.

Nov. 18 2009 11:31 AM
Susan from Kingston

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should have a lawyer. I have no problem with that.

Nov. 18 2009 11:30 AM
CBrown from Brooklyn

@ Timothy: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is being tried in Federal court and subject to Federal penalties, which includes capital punishment. It doesn't matter what state a federal trial takes place in. The state law doesn't supercede the federal law. If Mohammed is convicted in Federal court in New York State, he'll still be subject to the federal punishment, regardless of what the local laws are.

Nov. 18 2009 11:30 AM
pete from Brooklyn

I don't understand why so many opponents of the President want to try this man as a "war criminal" doesn't that elevate his cause to the level as political and thus legitimate. I think it makes sense to try them in Fed Ct b/c 911 was a criminal act, an act of terrorism, but not from a legitimate political agent.

Nov. 18 2009 11:29 AM
Susan from Kingston

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in NYC courts as a criminal. It was an act of terrorist, and that is a criminal matter. This trial should very public and I, for one, will watch it.

Nov. 18 2009 11:28 AM
Danielle from Summit, NJ

I think the idea that a jury will ever have to decide on this case is moot. These criminals want to be seen as martyrs by the followers of their cause, they will plead guilty with pleasure!

Nov. 18 2009 11:27 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

The Pre 9/11 attitude by George W. Bush's administration was to ignore any possibility of terrorism against our homeland. The warnings about potential terrorism came from the outgoing Clinton administration. Since Clinton was a liar, according to the Right, everything he and his subordinates said about terrorism were ignored by the government of George W. Bush.

Based upon how W allowed 9/11 to occur, it would be unwise for Obama's government to rely upon anyone from the Right, including the opinions of Rudy Guiliani, to make decisions.

Nov. 18 2009 11:27 AM
hjs from 11211

the federal governments has a death penalty. it does not matter that NY does not, in federal court

Nov. 18 2009 11:26 AM
Edward from NJ

Federal court is not televised. So if the defendants' rantings at trial are publicized it will be via transcripts. I would predict that the best outlets to hear these transcripts will be Fox News and right-wing radio.

Here's the script:
1) Read hateful anti-American diatribe.
2) Blame Obama for "providing a platform".

Nov. 18 2009 11:25 AM
Alex from Queens

My concern is that by having a civilian trial, the CIA and the harsh interogation scheme will be put on trial far more than KSM.

Nov. 18 2009 11:25 AM
Bill S from Bayside

Why did the Republicans hold their 2004 convention in NYC if not to show the terrorists they weren't afraid of them? And why are we rebuilding the WTC site with another big target?

Nov. 18 2009 11:24 AM
hjs from 11211

wars are between nations

Nov. 18 2009 11:24 AM
Timothy Stutters from New York

I have no problem with trying him in a Federal Court, but why try him in New York? This state has no death penalty, and if the Feds want to hold the trial, they should do so in Virginia, a state that does have the death penalty, since Holder admitted that's what they're seeking.

Nov. 18 2009 11:24 AM
Yourgo from Astoria

Republicans are afarid to see the terrorists go to trial because placing them through our judicial system will prove that their idea of creating Guantanamo Bay was wrong. Or are they afraid at what might be revealed if these terrorists are placed in a posistion were they can speak about their experiences.

Nov. 18 2009 11:21 AM
Paul from Ridgewood NJ

It is all well and good that Holder responds forcefully, and as early as possible, to the claims from the right; claims that Ms. Lithwick herself says are "damaging". Ms. Lithwick is over-analyzing by being critical in the way she is, of Holder's response. What else *should* he do? The right is front-loading the debate with force; a forceful, head-on response is the only correct response.

Nov. 18 2009 11:21 AM

Maybe the Republicans do not have faith in the US Judicial system (civilian courts) because it is no longer being run by the executive branch.

It seems like with this decision, we are getting back to a more democratic state. Good job to Eric Holder.

Nov. 18 2009 11:21 AM
Peter from Sunset Park

It has been widely stated throughout the media (including NPR and PBS) that Attorney General Holder did not consult with President Obama about holding these trials in NYC.

Does Ms. Lithwick or others really believe that Mr. Holder did not consult with the President? It feels like President Obama is trying to distance himself from this major policy decision in case something goes wrong.

Mr. Holder referred to the 9/11 bombings as a crime, not as a terrorist act. It feels that Mr. Holder is somehow diluting these acts of terror (which are an act of war) by calling them crimes (which suggest they are not an act of war). Does Ms. Lithwick have an opinion on the matter?

Please let Ms. Lithwick know that her Slate podcast offers interesting and often nuanced opinions from lefty positions. It is refreshing to hear members of the media openly admit they are biased towards one political party and report the news openly and honestly from that position.

Nov. 18 2009 11:16 AM
john from office

I personally feel much better, after hearing that statement. I have doubts about finding a unbiased Jury pool and any good attorney will make a motion to change Venue.

Nov. 18 2009 11:16 AM
Ann Hall Every, CCP from Forest Hills

To the critics of the decision to hold the trials of those accused of planning the 9-11 attacks in NYC : These criminals should have been put on trial here in NYC shortly after they were captured - they would have been convicted and either put to death or held in solitary for the remainder their existance. Instead, the previous administration decided to put them in jail in our part of Cuba - & torture them - to no avail. If we really had learned anything of strategic value from their torture to thwart the terrorists , would we still be fighting them in Afganistan in 2009?

In addition to that, had we also re-built the WTC towers as soon as the area was cleared, we all would have suffered less trauma these past years....while politicians squabbled and the culprits of that horrible day lived on.

Nov. 18 2009 11:15 AM

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