Democrats and the White House hailed the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law in a New York court Wednesday as vindication of the administration’s approach to trying terror suspects in civilian courts.
Holder said the conviction hopefully puts to bed any doubts about the process, which some Republicans have criticized.
“We never doubted the ability of our Article III court system to administer justice swiftly in this case, as it has in hundreds of other cases involving terrorism defendants,” he said in a statement. “It would be a good thing for the country if this case has the result of putting that political debate to rest.”
Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al Qaeda leader to face trial in a civilian court.
He was convicted on a pair of conspiracy charges to kill Americans and provide support to al Qaeda. He was also convicted of providing support to the terrorist group. Sentencing will begin Sept. 8.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) echoed Holder, saying she expected Abu Ghaith to spend the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison. Feinstein noted that the conspiracy charges used against him are not currently being used at Guantánamo, pending further review.
“This successful prosecution again shows that the criminal justice system is not just a valid way to prosecute al-Qaeda terrorists, but a better and more reliable way,” she said in a statement.
She ticked through a number of other terrorists convicted in civilian courts and said she is looking forward to more.
“This is long overdue and possibly the only option for some detainees aside from indefinite detention or release,” she said.
"We can and should be proud of our courts, and we are not afraid to prosecute terrorists in them,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement.
Some Republicans last year had called for Abu Ghaith to be tried in a military court at Guantánamo. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), at the time, said he had a real problem holding the trial in a civilian court.
“We’ve got a good courtroom down there. We should use it," Graham said at the time, alluding to Guantánamo.
Graham helped lead the effort to resume trials by military tribunal and hailed the decision in 2011 by the Obama administration to reverse course and try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by military commission. His trial has yet to take place.
At the time, Holder said he had no other options, and criticized Congress for blocking funding to move Guantánamo detainees to the United States for trial.
Last year, Holder said if Mohammed were to have been tried in a civilian court, he would already be on death row.
“I think that what we have seen over these past four years — not to be egocentric about this — but I was right,” he said.