In some of the strongest comments he’s made to date in defense of the use of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists, Attorney General Eric Holder slammed members of Congress who he said are putting the nation at risk when they “disparage the American criminal justice system.”
“Politics has no place - no place - in the impartial and effective administration of justice,” Holder said during a speech at the liberal American Constitution Society’s annual convention.
“Decisions about how, where, and when to prosecute must be made by prosecutors, not politicians,” Holder said. “And this is true for every case, whether it involves brutal terrorists or white collar criminals.”
“We see crucial national security tools, once again, being put at risk by those who disparage the American criminal justice system, and misguidedly claim that terror suspects cannot be tried safely in our civilian courts,” Holder said.
Holder said that as long as he heads the Justice Department he’ll “defend the exclusive right of the Executive Branch to determine appropriate venues and mechanisms for all criminal trials.”
“And I will continue to point out one indisputable fact, which has been proven repeatedly, during this Administration and the previous one: in disrupting potential attacks and effectively interrogating, prosecuting, and incarcerating terrorists - there is, quite simply, no more powerful tool than our civilian court system.
Our criminal justice system has proven - time and again - that it provides all the authority and flexibility we need to effectively combat terrorist threats. Since 9/11, hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts.
Not one of these individuals has escaped custody. Not one of the judicial districts involved has suffered retaliatory attacks. And not one of these terrorists arrested on American soil has been tried by a military commission. Not by the Obama Administration - and not by the Bush Administration. Not a single one.
Even though excellent work has been done to improve and reform the military commissions, these tribunals are largely untested. Without civilian law enforcement and Article III courts, our ability to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat terror plots; to secure actionable intelligence; to enlist international cooperation; and to punish those who have - and who intend to - harm Americans would be seriously damaged.
For these reasons, we must speak out. And we must set the record straight. In this work, I pledge my own best efforts. And, tonight, I ask for yours.