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Holder answers to 9/11 relatives about trying terrorism suspects in U.S.

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Attorney General Eric Holder told critics Wednesday not to cower at the prospect of a New York trial for professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a former military lawyer whose national security views win respect in the Obama White House, even though they do not always find agreement there, blasted the Justice Department for taking steps that he says will confuse military commanders and blur the lines between armed conflict and law enforcement.

He said that trying in civilian courts people who were captured on foreign battlefields will lead to confusion among military officials about the kinds of legal rights that detainees would have, such as the right to remain silent or to seek a lawyer.

"Can you give me a case where an enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court? We're making history here, and we're making bad history," Graham said. "The big problem I have is that you're criminalizing the war. You're confusing the people fighting the war. . . . You're making a fundamental mistake here."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the committee, said, "I believe this decision is dangerous, I believe it's misguided, I believe it's unnecessary."

But Holder retorted that prosecuting Mohammed in federal court "does not represent some larger judgment about whether or not we are at war," nor an indication of what the Justice Department will do with other Guantanamo Bay detainees.

He also took issue with the argument that civilian courts cannot adequately protect classified information and intelligence-gathering methods. He noted that the revised procedures for military commissions closely follow the existing strategies in American criminal courts.

As the long morning trended toward afternoon, and Holder at last turned with his advisers and security detail to leave, Hoagland stayed to reflect on the encounter.

"I don't think he has changed his mind, and I haven't changed my mind," she said.


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