Senators press Holder on military trials for accused Sept. 11 terrorists

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and five other senators are urging the administration to reverse its decision to try in civilian courts terrorist suspects allegedly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

McCain and the bipartisan group of senators want the suspects tried in military commissions instead.

They made the demand in a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

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Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) also signed the letter.

The group said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, should be tried by a military commission and not in a New York City courtroom.

“Today, those who subscribe to the same violent ideology as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed continue to plan and execute attacks against innocent civilians all over the world,” the senators wrote. “It is not in our national interest to provide them further publicity or additional advantage.”

Holding the trial in lower Manhattan, just blocks from where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers once stood, would provide “one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and rally others in support of future terrorism,” they argued.

“Such a trial would almost certainly become a recruitment and radicalization tool for those who wish us harm,” they wrote.

The senators wrote that a civilian court trial could compromise classified evidence and reveal sources and methods used by intelligence agencies. It also would risk the security of New Yorkers and place expensive and unnecessary new security burdens on the city and any others where trials of terrorist suspects are planned, the senators wrote.

Holder has defended his decision to try Mohammed in civilian court, saying that the U.S. justice system can no longer hold the detainees indefinitely and maintain its credibility. When he announced his decision in November, he said that federal courts could “safely and securely” prosecute suspected terrorists and protect classified material.

“It is time, it is past time, to act,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in November. “By bringing prosecutions in both our courts and military commissions, by seeking the death penalty, by holding these terrorists responsible for their actions, we are finally taking the ultimate steps toward justice. That is why I made this decision.”

On Tuesday McCain told the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that he is working with Lieberman and Graham on legislation that would clarify U.S. policies when it comes to interrogating, holding and trying detainees.