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Holder: 9/11 Trials Will Weigh ‘Crime of the Century’

In an interview with Jim Lehrer, Attorney General Eric Holder discusses the decision to prosecute the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees in civilian federal court in New York, calling the stakes "enormous."

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    I talked with the attorney general this afternoon at the Justice Department.

    Mr. Attorney General, welcome.

  • ERIC HOLDER, U.S. Attorney General:

    Thanks for having me.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You said this morning that deciding to prosecute these five 9/11 detainees in civilian federal court was a very tough decision for you to make.

    Why so?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    The stakes are so enormous. We're talking about what literally is the crime of the century.

    Where should this case properly be housed? How do I deal with the concerns of the victims? Am I placing it in a jurisdiction where we can handle the security? There were a whole series of questions that I had to ask, and answer, before I was able to say that this was the right decision to make.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Who did you consult while making this decision?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    I talked to the prosecutors in the Justice Department, prosecutors from the Department of Defense, people on the staff here at the Justice Department, people at Defense, a whole variety of people, who shared ideas, thoughts, gave cautionary ideas as well, and, using all of that, came up with the decision that we announced just earlier today.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Did you run it by President Obama?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Just informed him of the decision.

    He's a person who believes that a president's supposed to have hands off with his Justice Department. He's a good lawyer. And there are times when I would like to involve him maybe a little more, but his view is that, in those things that are in the province of the attorney general, all he needs to be is informed.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So, you just told him what your decision was; you didn't say, "What do you think about it, Mr. President?"

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Nope. Told him last night — or had relayed to him what I was going to do last night while he was on Air Force One on his way to Asia.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Did you talk to anybody outside the government?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    I talked to my wife…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes? OK.

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    … about what she thought. And I actually talked to my brother, who's a retired Port Authority police officer who served…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Oh, is that right? Yes.

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    … in New York, New Jersey, and who lost friends and colleagues on 9/11 in the towers, and talked to them about what — was it appropriate to bring it in New York, the symbolic significance of it, the possibility of getting a good and fair detached jury.

    So, those are at least two people I spoke to outside the normal realm.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And you believe these five men can get a fair trial in New York?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Yes, I think so. I don't think it's going to be an easy thing. I think it will take a really extended voir dire by a very skilled judge asking a lot of questions, maybe having to do it on an individual basis.

    But I think, if you do all of those things, we can come up with a fair jury.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    At your news conference, you left little doubt that, in your mind, at least, based on your study of the situation, you believe these men are guilty, correct?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, I certainly think that the evidence that we have uncovered, a lot of which has not been made public or people are not aware of, will allow us to be successful in the prosecution of these cases.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed, correct?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    He has indicated in a number of contexts that he was involved.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Have the other four also confessed?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, that's one of the things that we will be introducing at trial, a variety of statements and evidence that we think will be pretty conclusive.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is there anything that has led you to believe that their confessions, if, in fact, they are confessions, will be accepted up and down the legal chain, from district court all the way to the Supreme Court, if it goes there — that far?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, that was one of the things that I had to consider.

    What was the source of this information that comes from them? How was it elicited? Will it stand judicial scrutiny? And taking that into account and taking the other sources of information that we have. And that, as I said, has not necessarily been revealed to the public. I'm confident that we will have sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute these cases.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, Mohammed was water-boarded, was he not?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    He was.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And did he confess as a result of that? And is that going to be part of the evidence against him?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, I think, that, we will have to see at trial. I don't know what motions the defense will make. I don't want to speculate about that. But we are prepared to handle those kinds of motions and rely on evidence that is not in any way tainted.

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