Ashcroft: Holder lacks legal authority to order terror trials

Attorney General Eric Holder lacks authority to make a decision on moving terror detainees to civilian courts for trial, one of his predecessors said Wednesday.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who held his position during the Bush administration from 2001-2005, said that Holder lacked the legal standing to decide to move alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other terror detainees to federal courts in New York City to stand trial.

"The attorney general doesn't have the authority to mandate that the secretary of Defense turn somebody over to him and yield jurisdiction so that something that would have been done in a military setting is done in a civilian setting," Ashcroft told the Christ Stigall show on KCMO radio this morning.

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"I believe that this is a decision that comes as a result of the president making the decision, or if not making the decision, allowing an attorney general to do what he normally doesn't have the authority to do, and could only do at the acquiescence of the president," the former AG and former Missouri senator argued.

President Barack Obama has said that he instructed Holder to make an independent determination on the best way to proceed against the terrorist detainees.

"You know, I said to the attorney general, make a decision based on the law," Obama said in an interview on CNN this morning.

The president has backed Holder's decision, saying he has confidence in the court system to resolve the cases, including a potential death sentence for the defendants.

Ashcroft said his own experience as attorney general led him to his conclusion about Holder's authority.

"The office of Attorney General doesn't have the power or authority to do this on its own, in my judgement," he explained. "Of course, my judgment can be flawed -- I spent a few years there and considered these kinds of issues."