WASHINGTON, March 16, 2010— -- Attorney General Eric Holder predicted today it was unlikely that Osama bin Laden would ever face a trial in the United States since he would likely be killed.
"You're talking about a hypothetical that will never occur. The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom," Holder said.
"The possibilities simply do not exist." Holder later said, "It's infinitesimal."
"He will be killed by us, or he will be killed by his own people so that he is not captured by us," he said.
Holder, appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee today, also announced that the Obama administration was "weeks away" from reaching a decision on how -- and where -- to prosecute alleged Sept. 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The attorney general defended his decision to try Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators before a civilian jury in New York City.
The decision was shelved after what Holder called several months of undermining by local leaders in New York and internal debates among White House officials.
In an exchange with Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, Holder defended his counterterrorism policies and the powers and effectiveness of the U.S. court system. "My focus is how we seek justice...I've used both Article III [civilian] courts and military commissions," Holder said.
Holder became clearly exasperated by some of Culberson's questions and at one point, turned the tables.
Defending his decision to bring alleged 1998 U.S. embassy bomber Ahmed Ghailani to New York for trial, Holder said, "He's the last of the defendants to be brought to trial, the others were tried where?" Holder asked the congressman.
Culberson only stated that he was short on time, to which Holder then answered his own question: "By the Bush administration in civilian courts."
Rep. Jose Serrnano, D-N.Y., said that he supported the N.Y. trials but felt that the "train may have left the station" on being able to hold them there. Holder told the congressman, "I'm afraid you're right."
Holder took several hypothetical questions, including one about what would happen if Mohammed was released on a technicality and his civilian case was dismissed. Holder responded that "it's not going to happen. … Why would you say that?"
One of the more heated exchanges came between Holder and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who argued that by trying terror suspects in civilian courts, the U.S. would lose valuable intelligence by not being able to question people, like accused Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The two went back and forth, Wolf saying "it's true" that the U.S. would lose intelligence and Holder maintaining that it was "not true."
Holder ultimately said at the end of the exchange that he had seen the intelligence reports on Abdulmutallab's arrest, and "for the record, that is not true."