Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday that his department remains committed to closing the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay and is still reviewing its decision to try the 9/11 plotters in the civilian court system.
But in speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a routine oversight hearing for Justice Department activities, Holder did give hints that on both of these controversial decisions, criticism has taken its toll and changes may be in the offing.
Asked about the closure of Gitmo, Holder said it remained “the intention of this administration to close the facility.”
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“There was and I still think is… bipartisan support for the notion that the Guantanamo facility should be closed,” he said. “It serves as recruiting tool for those who want to harm this nation. Both of the men who ran for pres last year supported the closing of Guantanamo as did President Obama’s predecessor.”
That said, Holder did recognized the challenges that both he and his department faced in achieving this long-sought objective. Money has not yet been appropriated for a replacement facility in upstate Illinois, and without a place to move the Gitmo detainees they simply couldn’t close Gitmo.
“One of the things we need is an alternative sight,” said Holder, of the facility at Thomson, Illinois. “We have to have an option and that will require congressional support for the funding requests we have made.”
Staying on the issue of detainees, Holder made a newsworthy admission that the Department of Justice had, indeed, identified 48 detainees who were “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible to prosecute.” These individuals would have to be imprisoned by the United States indefinitely. And there are serious legal arguments about whether that can be possible at a domestic facility.
Holder was pressed on another contentious topic confronting his administration: the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters at a civilian court in New York. The White House, in recent weeks and months, has floated the possibility that they want to backtrack on the decision, preferring a military setting instead. Costs, indeed, are prohibitive, and there is limited support among local officials in New York.
Asked about the pending decision, Holder did not rule out that the trial could still be held in Manhattan.
“The administration is in the process of reviewing the decision of where KSM and his co-defendants should actually be tried,” he said. “New York is not off the table… though we have to take into consideration the concerns raised by both [local officials and security].”
A decision on this, he added would be made “in a number of weeks” — though the Justice Department has been operating off that time frame for well over a month now.
UPDATE: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) apparently is not pleased that Holder continues to float the possibility that KSM and others will be tried in Manhattan. In a statement from his office, the New York Democrat said the following:
“We know the administration is not going to hold the trial in New York. They should just say it already.”