Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional panel Tuesday that the question of reading Osama bin Laden his Miranda rights is absurd – because he won’t be brought in alive.
“Let’s deal with reality,” Holder said. “You’re talking about a hypothetical that will never occur. We will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Obama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom. That’s the reality….He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people, so he’s not captured by us. We know that.”
Holder’s comments came during a hearing where Holder and a Republican congressman debated whether bin Laden and notorious killer Charles Manson deserved the same legal rights.
During a House appropriations subcommittee hearing, Holder invoked Manson to counter Republican arguments that the administration wanted to stage civilian trials that would give alleged 9/11 plotters the same Constitutional rights afforded to the average American.
“These defendants, many of whom are charged with murder, would be treated just like any other murder defendants,” Holder said with evident exasperation. “The comparison….the question is: Are they being treated the way any other murderer would be? They have the same rights Charles Manson would have.”
While Holder thought the Manson comparison would make Americans feel more comfortable with the idea of civilian trials for terrorism suspects, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) disagreed and sensed an opening.
“Osama bin Laden, in your opinion, has the same rights as Charles Manson?” a dubious Culberson asked.
“In some ways, I think they’re comparable people,” Holder said.
“That’s incredible,” Culberson replied. “The disconnect—your administration, your mindset is so completely opposite where the majority of the American people are,” the Congressman said, arguing that disagreement with the Obama Administration’s terrorism prosecution policy drove the recent victory of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
The hearing was the first opportunity for lawmakers to question Holder publicly since the administration backed away from his plan to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City. Despite Holder’s feistiness, he lacked any new plan and said the decision about whether to pick another site for a civilian trial or revert to a military commission is still up in the air.
“I think that we are weeks away from making that determination. I don’t think we’re talking about months,” Holder said. The attorney gave no hints about the status of the discussions and said he would make the final call, but he said President Barack Obama would be “consulted” before a new decision is made.
With Republicans and some Democrats pressing legislation that would bar civilian trials for all “high-value detainees,” Holder said such a move would undercut national security.
“Let me make this very, very clear: if you were to take away from the Justice Department, this government, this administration and subsequent administrations [the right to use civilian courts], you would weaken our ability to fight successfully these wars. It is as simple as that,” Holder said.
Holder also defended the FBI’s handling of Christmas Day bombing suspect Omar Abdulmutallab and said the interrogation that took place before he was read Miranda rights was extensive.
“I’ve heard a lot said that he was only questioned for 50 minutes. That’s a fairly long period of time,” Holder said. “If you look at the report of interview of what was gotten from him in 50 minutes—an hour, there was pretty substantial amount of information gotten from him.”
Holder also shed new light on Abdulmutallab’s behavior after a new team of FBI agents was brought in and read him his rights.
“He came out of that procedure…more warrior-like. I don’t think the Miranda warning made him decide not to talk. I think something within him that took him back to where he was before he ignited the bomb or whatever I think he became that person again,” Holder said. “He answered a few questions in that second interaction but not many and then ultimately he didn’t want to continue that conversation.”
While most New York lawmakers turned against Holder’s plan to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in Manhattan, one New York City Democrat offered praise for the decision.
“New York City lives with the understanding that it is still the main target for any terrorist group,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY). “That train may have left the station already. I think it has. Every elected official thinks it’s the worst thing you could do. At least know one elected official thinks there’s nothing wrong with trying them there—on the contrary.”