Holder: Critics of Federal Court Terrorist Prosecution ‘Simply Wrong’

Attorney General Eric Holder, maintaining that people accused of terrorism against the United States can be tried in federal courts, says those who say the courts can’t handle such high-profile cases “are not just registering a dissenting opinion — they are simply wrong.”

“In the aftermath of 9/11,” Holder says, the U.S. has struggled to respond to “a new kind of stateless threat . “Fear and uncertainty ” have driven the nation “to abandon our values in pursuit of information about those who would do us harm, he says, citing the use of techniques “of  questionable effectiveness” and “ certainly inconsistent with who we say we are as a people. ”

Holder, who has enjoyed at best a contentious relationship with Congress over this and other matters, contends members of Congress have “placed unwise and unwarranted restrictions on where certain detainees could be housed, charged and prosecuted.   In short, many lost faith with our founding documents and our time-tested, effective institutions. ”

Holder has wrestled with congressional leaders resisting the trial of international terrorists in federal court in New York, and his newest argument comes as the government prepares for trial of the surviving American accused of planting bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, many of these tired and meritless political arguments – and renewed calls to abandon the use of civilian courts in dealing with terrorism-related activity – are being made once again,” Holder said yesterday, delivering the commencement address at the University of California’s Berkeley Law School. “And once again, every legal professional, every aspiring leader, and every graduate in this crowd today must renew your commitment to standing firm – in the face of manufactured controversy and overheated partisan rhetoric – to uphold our most sacred values. ”

“Let me be clear:   those who claim that our federal courts are incapable of handling terrorism cases are not registering a dissenting opinion,” Holder told the Class of 2013. “They are simply wrong.   Their assertions ignore reality.   And attempting to limit the use of these courts would weaken our ability to incapacitate and to punish those who target our people and attempt to terrorize our communities. ”

“Throughout history, our federal courts have proven to be an unparalleled instrument for bringing terrorists to justice,” the attorney general said. “They have enabled us to convict scores of people of terrorism-related offenses since September 11.   Hundreds are properly, safely and securely held in our federal prisons, not Guantanamo, today.   Not one has ever escaped custody.   No judicial district has suffered a retaliatory attack of any kind.   And no other tool has demonstrated such a robust ability to stop terrorists – and collect intelligence – over a diverse range of circumstances.   I defy anyone, on the merits, to challenge these assertions.”

“Our heritage, and our legacy to future generations, clearly demand that we maintain full faith and confidence in a court system that has distinguished this nation for more than two centuries.   Our security demands it, as well, because prosecuting terrorists in federal court is not just consistent with our values – it is extraordinarily effective.   The Article III system is both strong and fair.   And it has long been seen as legitimate around the world – setting this country apart, differentiating us from other nations, and serving as a model for others to envy – and to emulate. ”

“Come what may, we must never cede our freedoms or curtail our dearest liberties, nor feel that there is a tension between them and our ability to keep safe,” Holder said. “Especially in moments of crisis, when we are under attack or faced with difficulty and danger, our actions – your actions – must be grounded in the bedrock of the Constitution.   And steps forward must be rooted not only in our proudest legal traditions – but also our highest ideals. ”


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