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Holder vows to keep fighting for terror trials in civilian courts

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • Attorney general lashes out at Congress for forcing him to surrender on the issue
  • He says terror suspects should not be tried before military tribunals

Washington (CNN) -- Attorney General Eric Holder promised an audience of progressives and liberals Thursday that he will not abandon the fight to steer accused terrorists to civilian court trials rather than military tribunals.

Holder lashed out at Congress for forcing him to recently surrender on the issue, and to place accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other co-conspirators before military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He did not directly respond to a call this week by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to move two terrorism suspects arrested in Kentucky to the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Holder did issue a more general statement, however, saying that "critical decisions on national security cases should be handled by the veteran counter-terrorism agents, intelligence analysts and prosecutors around the country who do this work for a living, not politicians looking to score political points."

He said that "decisions about how, where and when to prosecute suspects, particularly terrorism suspects, must always be free of external political pressure."

Holder added he would do whatever was within his power to have suspected terrorists tried in civilian courts.

"We continue to see overheated rhetoric that is detached from history and from the facts," Holder said at a convention of the American Constitution Society in Washington.

"We see crucial national security tools, once again, being put at risk by those who disparage the American criminal justice system, and misguidedly claim that terror suspects cannot be tried safely in our civilian courts," Holder said.

"We must speak out. And we must set the record straight. In this work, I pledge my own best efforts and tonight I ask for yours."