Last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other terrorists would be tried in a civilian court in New York City rather than before a military tribunal. Pressing Holder on this decision at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight hearing of the U.S. Department of Justice, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked: “Can you give me a case in United States history where a (sic) enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?”
Holder responded: “I don’t know. I’d have to look at that. I think that, you know, the determination I’ve made…” At which point Graham interjected: “We’re making history here, Mr. Attorney General. I’ll answer it for you. The answer is no.” Holder’s decision does make history. And not in a good way. Edwin Meese III, the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation as well as the United States Attorney General between 1985 and 1988 released the following statement yesterday on Holder’s unprecedented decision:
It is clear that foreign terrorists and terrorist groups have committed acts of war against the United States, and that our national security requires that we respond accordingly. This means that President Bush’s prudent actions and the military response which he led should continue as our answer to these attacks.
Congress overwhelmingly reaffirmed their commitment to military commissions in 2006, which have historically been the way that we respond to acts of war. To abandon our two centuries of tradition and to substitute some new civilian procedure as a response to such attacks endangers the security of our country and our national interest.
It was a tragic mistake to decide to abandon the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, which was designed physically and legally to handle these types of cases. It is a further tragic mistake to now bring the detained war combatants into the United States and to employ civilian criminal procedures which were never intended for this type of situation.
The U.S. Constitution protects American citizens and visitors from the moment they are suspected of criminal wrongdoing through a potential trial. These same protections are not, have never, and should not be granted to enemy combatants in war, since it is clear that regardless of the outcome of the trial, these detainees will likely remain in the custody of the United States.