March 16th, 2010
06:55 PM ET

Holder: Decision on venue for 9/11 terror trial weeks away

The Obama administration's decision on where to try the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks will be made "within weeks, not months," Attorney General Eric Holder told a House panel on Tuesday.

And although Holder conceded "the train may have left the station" on a decision to hold the trials in New York City, he continued his dogged defense of the need to try terrorist defendants in civilian criminal courts.

Under intense questioning from Republican critics on a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Holder rejected claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would enjoy additional legal rights if his trial were conducted before a civilian judge and jury. "He'd be given the same rights as Charles Manson or any other mass murderer," Holder declared. "It doesn't mean they're going to be coddled."

The attorney general gave no hints about where and when the trials of Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators might be conducted if they were moved to a military court.

Government sources have said the White House is likely to decide a military trial is necessary to win congressional support for the eventual closing of the military prison in the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Holder waged verbal battles Tuesday with Republican lawmakers who demanded to know whether al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would be given Miranda rights and tried in a U.S. civilian criminal court if he is captured.

"The chances he'll be captured alive are infinitesimal. He'll be killed by our people, or his own people so he's not captured by us," Holder told the House panel, which oversees the Justice Department budget.

But Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, persisted, wanting to know if bin Laden would be released if not convicted.

"He would never be released," Holder replied.

"Then what's the point of a trial," Culberson responded.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, blasted Holder for the FBI's handling of accused Christmas bomber Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. Wolf and Holder engaged in an angry exchange over whether the government had failed to obtain information from AbdulMutallab because he was given Miranda warnings.

FBI Director Robert Mueller faces the same panel Wednesday, when the Christmas terrorism episode in Detroit is expected to be a prime topic. Holder will return to Capitol Hill next week for a faceoff with a Senate committee.

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