During a Wednesday hearing in which he defended the Obama administration's record on prosecuting terror suspects, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a New York City trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was still an option.
Asked by Senator Jeff Sessions, R..-Ala, ranking minority member on the committee, when the Obama administration would decide on a venue for the trial, Holder said, "New York City is not off the table."
The Attorney General also clarified his earlier, much-publicized remarks about not catching Osama Bin Laden alive, saying it was still policy to capture or kill bin Laden if possible, and defended the Justice Department's handling of underwear bombing suspect Umar Abdulmutallab.
Holder denounced efforts by conservatives to "drag [through] the mud" the names of Justice Department lawyers who had represented Guantanamo Bay detainees. Yet he acknowledged that despite the Obama administration's intention to shut down "Gitmo," it might not be possible unless Congress authorizes funding for its replacement.
In his prepared testimony, Holder said the administration was still deciding what to do with five 9-11 coconspirators who are now in U.S. custody.
"No final decision has been made about the forum in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his codefendants will be tried," said Holder. "As I've said from the outset, this is a close call."
Holder also said that other venues within the federal court system's Southern District of New York were also a possibility.
Sen. Sessions later told the Attorney General, "I don't think the people of New York want this trial anywhere near New York ... or in the District.
Pressed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., Holder said the administration is taking into account the opposition of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, other city officials and most of the New York Congressional delegation.
While Holder's comments are technically true, according to Administration officials, the trial is almost certainly not going to happen in downtown Manhattan. The Attorney General is keeping his options open and maintaining New York is still an option as the administration narrows a final list of places where a trial could take place in a civil setting or military commission.
"We know the administration is not going to hold the trial in New York," said Schumer in a paper statement. "They should just say it already."
In testimony, Holder also clarified what he told a House committee in March about the possibility of capturing Osama Bin Laden alive. In March, Holder said Bin Laden would not be captured alive, and that if he were found, U.S. soldiers would be reading Miranda rights to a corpse.
On Wednesday, Holder told the Judiciary Committee, "Our goal is to either capture Osama bin Laden or to kill him."
"What I said in that [March] hearing was an assessment of, I think, the likelihood that we're going to be able to capture him alive. What I said was that, with regard to that possibility…I see it's highly unlikely that he will be taken alive." said Holder, citing what the U.S. knows about the security forces around Bin Laden. Later he added that if Osama Bin Laden were captured alive, Bin Laden would not be read his Miranda rights.