Holder: Politics has Delayed KSM Trial

Bob Schieffer interviews Attorney General Eric Holder for the July 11, 2010 edition of "Face the Nation. CBS

In an exclusive interview with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation," Attorney General Eric Holder said that political posturing has delayed some of the administration's top priorities -- bringing self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to trial and closing the prison and Guantanamo Bay.

Holder said the administration will make a decision as to where [the KSM] trial will occur "as soon as we can."

"But we are bound and determined to hold Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and those who worked with him… responsible for happened on September 11," he told Schieffer during the interview, which took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo.

Holder wants to try Mohammed in civilian court, but some others say the trial should take place in the military tribunal system. The Obama administration is still in the process of determining what course of action to take, but Holder expressed frustration over the debate.
"One of the things I think that is particularly bothersome to me is that this really has become something that has become political," Holder told Schieffer. "And politicization of this issue, when we're dealing with ultimate national security issues, is something that disturbs me a great deal."

He added that having "Republicans and Democrats arguing about this in a political way, as opposed to dealing with the substance... is something that I think is regrettable and has resulted, I think, in the delays that we have seen."

Holder said he preferred trying the alleged terrorists in civilian court because the United States has an "extremely capable" court system that has proven effective in these kind of cases.

"There have been a really limited number of people who have been tried in the military tribunals, which is not to say that they should not be used," he said. "But... I think if we try to exclude the federal criminal justice system, we are taking away one of the tools that we have. And I think ultimately we make this nation much weaker. That's a very dangerous thing, I think, to take that tool out of our hands."

The administration must work through other issues to determine where the trial will be held, such as Congressional funding issues and concerns held by local officials, Holder said.

"Justice has been denied too long," he said.

Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is another priority that has been upheld by politics, Holder told Schieffer. Some politicians are opposed to the administration's plans to move prisoners to an underused state prison in Thomson, Illinois.

"This is another instance where I think politics, unfortunately, has entered into this discussion," he said. "I think there's a lot of misinformation out there. We have proven an ability to hold in our federal prison system people convicted of, charged with terrorist offenses very effectively, very safely. There is no reason to believe that people held in Guantanamo cannot be held wherever we put them in the United States."

The administration requested funding in its 2011 budget to open the Thomson facility, and must persuade Congress to approve the funding. Holder noted that the administration has brought down the number of prisoners still detained at Guantanamo from 240 to about 180.

"Guantanamo… serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda," he said. "The intelligence shows that, continues to show that that is true. It has served as a wedge between us and our traditional allies. We have done all that we can to try to close Guantanamo."

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