Tales from the Trail

Bin Laden’s death relieves U.S. of tough decision about legal prosecution

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is probably relieved that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed during the military operation in Pakistan rather than being captured.

A year ago, Holder drew some scrutiny when Republicans in the House of Representatives questioned him about how bin Laden would be prosecuted if captured, whether in a traditional federal criminal court or a special military court.

Republicans and even some Democrats have opposed federal trials for the foreign terrorism suspects because they would be afforded all traditional U.S. legal rights. Military courts have more relaxed standards for allowing certain evidence to be used during trials and do not require that suspects be advised of their legal rights, such as the right to a lawyer or to remain silent.

Holder has been criticized for attempting to have some of the accused Sept. 11 suspects prosecuted in a federal criminal court and had to back down in the face of intense fury from politicians.  A year ago Texas Republican Representative John Culberson questioned whether bin Laden was similar to convicted mass murderer Charles Manson and thus eligible for full U.S. legal rights.

“Well granting Osama bin Laden the right to appear in a U.S. courtroom, you are clothing Osama bin Laden with the protections of the U.S. Constitution. That’s unavoidable,” Culberson said.

Footnote in terrorism ruling brings politics to the courtroom

The trial in New York of Ahmed Ghailani, the first suspect from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prison to face a jury in a U.S. criminal court, is being closely watched as a template for future terrorism cases and by those who think those suspects should be in military courts instead.

USA-GUANTANAMO/GHAILANIGhailani, a Tanzanian, is accused of participating in the 1998 al Qaeda-sponsored bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people. He was arrested in 2004 in Pakistan, and was subsequently taken into CIA custody for two years before going to the Guantanamo prison.

Many Republicans and some Democrats have said civilian courts are not up to the challenge of prosecuting terrorism suspects and favor the military commissions.

Holder: collective administration decision on possible bin Laden trial

(UPDATED – adds Tuesday hearing delayed)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder drew a lot of attention last week when he told Congress that he believed that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would never be captured alive and declined to say how he would be prosecuted if that hypothetical capture actually came to fruition.


Holder offered a somewhat clearer answer on Monday to that question ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Tuesday that is expected to delve deeply into the Obama administration’s policies for prosecuting terrorism suspects. (The hearing was postponed until April 14 because many lawmakers plan to attend the healthcare bill signing.)

“If  Osama bin Laden were captured, a decision as to how to proceed would be made at that time in consultation with the President’s full national security team,”  Holder said in written responses released on Monday to questions submitted for the record by the committee after its last oversight hearing in November.

US senator says no way to $200 million for 9/11 trial security

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins rarely raises her voice to emphasize a point but on Wednesday she spoke forcefully against spending some $200 million on security for the trials of the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including the self-professed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“It’s the safe assumption that Congress is not going to appropriate $200 million for the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City,” Collins told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a hearing on the department’s fiscal 2011 budget.

USA/“It is not going to happen,” she said, adding that some of the money would be better spent on other things, such as resources for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Attorney General Holder escapes DC snow for Florida, defends decisions

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.

Obama slams opposition to civilian trials for terrorism suspects

President Barack Obama didn’t mince words when he criticized Republican opposition to prosecuting foreign terrorism suspects in U.S. criminal courts rather than in military tribunals, calling it “rank politics.”

His administration was caught off guard last week when opposition mounted to trying the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks in a lower Manhattan courthouse amid concerns about security and costs as well as potentially affording the suspects certain legal rights.

“One of the things that we’ve had to try to communicate to the country at large is that, historically, we’ve tried a lot of terrorists in our courts; we have them in our federal prisons; they’ve never escaped,” Obama said in an interview with YouTube.GUANTANAMO/

Obama misses a deadline on Guantanamo

Just because a president orders something done, that don’t make it happen.

A year after President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the facility is still open and holding 196 terrorism suspects the United States has captured.

GUANTANAMO/The president had barely finished celebrating his inauguration when he signed an order Jan. 22, 2009, directing the Guantanamo prison be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”

Any inmates still at the prison at the time of closure would be “returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Family member of 9/11 victim presses Attorney General on trials

GUANTANAMO-USA/After the sharp exchanges of words between Attorney General Eric Holder and senators about trying the Sept. 11 suspects in criminal court fell quiet, a soft-spoken woman who lost her 31-year-old son that day approached.

Alice Hoagland’s son Mark Bingham died on hijacked United Flight 93 which crashed in rural Pennsylvania and she had come to Washington to attend the Senate Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing of the Justice Department where Holder’s decision about prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others was the main subject.

“I take great exception to your decision to give short shrift to the military commissions and to put the five most heinous criminals and war criminals into court in New York City,” an emotional Hoagland told Holder. “It will give these ugly people, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh especially, very eloquent access to all the media sources in the United States.”