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Civilian trial for 9/11 suspects not ruled out, Holder says

A civilian trial in New York for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his codefendants in the Sept. 11 terrorism case is still a possibility, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. told senators Wednesday.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder also said the U.S. would like to capture and question Osama bin Laden, but expects the Al Qaeda leader won’t be taken alive.

Republicans have repeatedly questioned Obama administration policies in dealing with terrorism suspects, including how they are questioned to gain intelligence and whether they should be tried in civilian or military venues.

The administration has tried to separate itself from some of the George W. Bush administration’s policies.

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Holder had originally proposed trying Mohammed in a civilian court in New York, but that decision is under review by the White House after New York officials changed their minds and rejected the idea.

Holder on Wednesday said that civilian courts represented one of several approaches, including military commissions, to trying the suspects.

The Justice Department has obtained 160 convictions for terrorism offenses and 240 for terrorism-related crimes, he said.

“At a time when questions have been raised about the role of our courts, it is important to note that most of these convictions came during the last administration, which made the criminal justice system an integral component of its counter-terrorism strategy,” Holder said.

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“The Bush administration used the criminal justice system to interrogate, prosecute and incarcerate terrorists for the same reason the Obama administration has: It is an extremely effective tool to ensure justice and protect the security of the American people,” he said.

Holder said no final decision had been made on how to try the five suspected Sept. 11 plotters.

“As I’ve said from the outset, this is a close call,” Holder said. “It should be clear to everyone by now that there are many legal, national security and practical factors to be considered here.”

Last month, Holder told lawmakers that Bin Laden probably would never face trial because he would be killed first. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the goal was for U.S. troops to capture Bin Laden alive and “bring him to justice.”

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“We hope to capture him and interrogate him,” Holder said Wednesday. “But it is highly unlikely he will taken alive,” because reports suggest that Bin Laden’s bodyguards have been ordered not to let him be captured.

michael.muskal@

latimes.com


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