Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. on Thursday evening forcefully defended the use of civilian courts to prosecute terror suspects, saying in a speech at the American Constitution Society there is no role for politics in prosecutorial decision making.
Holder earlier this year retreated from his decision in November 2009 to prosecute alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal district court in Manhattan, electing instead to refer the case to a military commission.
“Politics has no place—no place—in the impartial and effective administration of justice,” Holder said in prepared remarks at the ACS convention in downtown Washington. “Decisions about how, where, and when to prosecute must be made by prosecutors, not politicians. And this is true for every case, whether it involves brutal terrorists or white collar criminals.”
In his remarks, Holder challenged the notion that the use of federal district courts to try terror suspects would jeopardize public safety. He called Article III trial courts “our most effective terror-fighting weapon.”
“Despite this reality, we continue to see overheated rhetoric that is detached from history—and from the facts,” Holder said. “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 last night heralded the record number of cases the Civil Rights Division has brought under his administration, touting the prosecution of human trafficking and hate crimes.
His speech also touched on what he described as an “unacceptable backlog of judicial nominations.” On sentencing policy, Holder spoke in favor of the retroactive application of guidelines to reduce the disparity in prison terms between crack and powder cocaine cases.
Before Holder took the stage, Associate Justice Peter Rubin of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, a founding member of ACS, spoke about the evolution of the legal group, which is marking its 10th anniversary. Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, is scheduled to speak this afternoon at the convention.