Attorney General Holder escapes DC snow for Florida, defends decisions

February 12, 2010

After the federal government closed for four days following two major blizzards, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder escaped to the warmer climes of Tampa, Florida, where he defended decisions on terrorism-related cases that have come under fire.

FINANCIAL-COMMISSION/Republicans have harshly criticized Holder for deciding to prosecute the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including the self-professed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in traditional criminal courts rather than military tribunals.

He has also drawn bipartisan fire for planning to hold the trials blocks from the site where the World Trade Center twin towers stood amid new concerns about security and costs.

Additionally, the attorney general has been lambasted for how the Obama administration has dealt with the accused underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was arrested on Christmas Day for trying to explode a device aboard a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The suspect was interviewed for about an hour before he underwent surgery for his injuries. He stopped cooperating and was  read his legal rights and subsequently charged in a criminal court.  That all drew harsh criticism from Senator Kit Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, among others.

He and other Republicans have argued that Abdulmutallab should have been deemed an enemy combatant, charged in a military court and been interrogated by intelligence experts rather than the FBI. The lawmakers have questioned whether valuable intelligence was lost as a result.

“We at the Justice Department are under fire for some of the decisions I have made. I’m convinced that those decisions are the right ones,” Holder said in a speech to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Symposium in Tampa.

USA/“They are consistent with who we are as Americans. They’re consistent with our values as Americans,” Holder said. “I’m proud of the decisions I’ve made, I’ll stick by the decisions I’ve made.”

After weeks of criticism, the Obama administration has begun pushing back, saying useful intelligence was obtained from Abdulmutallab and scores of terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted in criminal courts.  The administration also took the extraordinary step of disclosing that Abdulmutallab has begun cooperating again with authorities after family members were brought in from Nigeria to help convince him.

The political heat has forced the Obama administration to reconsider the location for the 9/11 cases. Congress is also weighing whether to cut off funding for criminal prosecutions, which would effectively force them into a military commission trial.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama and the White House were now more involved in deciding where the 9/11 trials would be held. “He will have strong equities in this decision and will hear from a lot of different people.”

Last week Obama refused to rule out that the trials could still be held in lower Manhattan.

- Additional reporting by Robert Green  in Tampa, Florida.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Holder on Capitol Hill last month); Rebecca Cook (courtroom drawing of Abdulmutallab during a hearing)

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