Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
To me, AG Holder inspires a lot more confidence that either Gonzalez or Ashcroft.
November 19, 2009
Guantánamo Won’t Close by January, Obama Says
By JACK HEALY
President Obama acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that his administration would miss a self-imposed deadline to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by mid-January, admitting the difficulties of following through on one of his first pledges as president.
“Guantánamo, we had a specific deadline that was missed,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC News in Beijing during his weeklong trip to Asia. Hours after he spoke, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. defended the administration’s decision to try five suspected terrorists in New York City — a move closely tied to its efforts to close Guantánamo.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Holder reiterated that prosecutors would seek the death penalty against the men, and rebuffed criticisms that a civilian trial afforded the defendants too much regard, or would jeopardize national security.
“We need not cower in the face of this enemy,” Mr. Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our institutions are strong. Our infrastructure is sturdy. Our resolve is firm, and our people are ready.
Mr. Obama, in the NBC interview, also stood behind the decision to prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-avowed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying that any anger at the civilian trial would disappear “when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.”
“I have complete confidence in the American people and our legal traditions and the prosecutors,” he said.
On Guantánamo, Mr. Obama said that he now hoped to shut down the detention facility sometime next year, but he did not set a new deadline.
“We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantánamo will be closed next year,” Mr. Obama said in a separate interview with Fox News. “I’m not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend on cooperation from Congress.”
The prospects for fully shutting down Guantánamo have been dimming for months as the administration stumbled over a litany of political and logistical tripwires. Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel who drafted the order to close the facility, announced last week that he was stepping down. During the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Obama railed against the detention complex on an American military base in Cuba, calling it a symbol used by terrorists to recruit new members. Within days of his inauguration, he ordered Guantánamo closed by January.
But his plans to relocate the prison’s 200 remaining inmates to other countries or to other detention centers in the United States have been stymied by opposition from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as residents who live close to prisons that could house terrorists.
Most recently, the administration said it was considering sending terrorism suspects from Guantánamo to a maximum-security state prison in Thomson, Ill., about 150 miles west of Chicago, though some other prisons are also under consideration.
Last week, the Department of Justice decided that five terrorism suspects — including Mr. Mohammed — would be prosecuted in federal court in New York City, rather than face military tribunals.
Mr. Holder said that the prosecutions in a civilian court was an important milestone toward closing the Guantánamo detention center, even as critics like Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York’s former Republican mayor, accused the administration of making the city a target.
When asked what might happen to any of the four defendants who are acquitted, Mr. Holder said: "Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect that we will have a contrary result."
With that, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said sarcastically, "It just seemed to me ludicrous, but I’m a farmer, not a lawyer."
Mr. Holder insisted the suspects would be convicted, but that in any case, "that doesn’t mean that person would be released into our country."
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.