On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to question Attorney General Eric Holder about his decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in criminal courts rather than military tribunals. As the father of Todd Beamer, who died on United Airlines Flight 93, I was able to attend that hearing.
In his opening remarks, Attorney General Holder acknowledged that these defendants could have been brought to trial in civilian court or before military tribunals. But he made the argument that trying them in our criminal courts would restore the integrity of our judicial system. He assured us that the trials would be quick, that the safety of New Yorkers would be paramount, that classified information would not be revealed, that the evidence was overwhelming, and that justice would be served.
Then the Republican members proceeded to ask Mr. Holder thoughtful questions. Some examples:
How can we be assured that these enemies will be found guilty? Given that criminal courts are now the presumed venue for those captured on the battlefield, will soldiers need to read them their rights at the time of capture? Since you wish to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis to the presumed civil venue, don't all those captured need to be read their rights and have the opportunity to remain silent? Won't this venue expose intelligence to our enemies? Can our classified information really be secured? Can we in fact predict how the judge will rule? If these people are brought into the country will they get additional rights under immigration law? What if they claim asylum?
The attorney general seemed bewildered in the face of these inquiries. Recurring themes in his responses included "I think," and "I can't imagine," and "I am not an expert in immigration."
Has our attorney general not considered these issues, or imagined the possible unintended consequences that will arise from his historic decision? It certainly seemed that way. If he had, he would have had better answers.