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OTHER OPINION: Terrorist justice

Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others will be tried in military commissions for their alleged roles in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

The decision comes nearly 10 years after the attacks that took the lives of more than 3,000 people, eight years after Mohammed’s capture and some 16 months after Holder first said the five defendants would be tried in a federal courthouse in Manhattan. The reversal is a personal blow for Holder, who has been the Obama administration’s most committed advocate for prosecuting terrorism suspects in federal courts. But it is the correct call.

The original decision to try Mohammed and the others in federal court was reasonable, given that the attacks occurred on U.S. soil and involved largely civilian casualties and targets. But Holder and the administration botched the matter by failing to consult fully with New York officials about security and cost concerns. Soon, local officials and federal lawmakers of both parties were criticizing the decision, forcing the administration to reconsider. The case has been on hold since.

Although not yet tested, the rules for military commissions have been improved since 2009 and now offer many of the legal protections embedded in civilian courts. Detainees are guaranteed military lawyers at government expense and have the option of hiring civilian lawyers or relying on those who donate their services.  

Holder was right during his announcement on Monday to defend the ability of federal courts to handle the vast majority of terrorism cases, including the Sept. 11 prosecutions. He was right to criticize Congress for trampling on the executive’s exclusive authority to decide who gets prosecuted and where. But given the circumstances, he’s also right to move forward, finally, with these trials.

— Washington Post