(CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Friday he is "kind of hoping" the prisoners facing military trials in connection with the September 11 attacks do not receive the death penalty, which would fulfill their desire to be martyrs.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey Mukasey talks to British students about 9/11 defendants.
During questions from students at the London, England, School of Economics, Mukasey indicated his support for the death penalty in the United States, but then waded into a discussion of his views on potential sentences for al Qaeda defendants at Guantanamo Bay.
"In a way I kind of hope from a personal standpoint -- and I can say this because the military commissions will be run by the Department of Defense, not by the Justice Department. ... I kind of hope they don't get it. Because many of them want to be martyrs and it's kind of like the conversation, you know, between the sadist and the masochist. The masochist says 'Hit me' and the sadist says 'No.' So I am kind of hoping they don't get it."
"The 11 defendants who were charged with participation in 9/11 killed 3,000 people. One of them, at least, is proud enough of it to have written to his wife that he thinks he is innocent because it was only 3,000. If those are not poster children for the death penalty, I don't know who is," Mukasey told the British students.
Military prosecutors have asked to seek the death penalty for the defendants if they are convicted of capital crimes. The Defense Department's judicial panel called its "convening authority" has not announced whether to approve the Guantanamo military trials as capital cases.
Historically, U.S. attorneys general do not express their private views on pending legal matters. It is not clear whether any of the al Qaeda defendants at Guantanamo Bay could eventually come before a U.S. civilian court.
In Washington, some Justice Department officials' eyes widened and eyebrows raised when they learned of Mukasey's statements, but they made no comments. Mukasey has exhibited caution in his many previous public appearances, so his offhand remarks appeared out of character for the low-key retired federal judge.
Mukasey left London Friday afternoon and was to be back in Washington late Friday night. E-mail to a friend