By Evan Perez
Four years after political opposition killed his plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 plotters in civilian court in Manhattan, Attorney General Eric Holder says: "I was right."
Continued delays in the military trial of Mohammed and four others at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, which may not start until 2015, proves his point, Holder said Monday, interjecting a "not to be egocentric about it" qualifier.
"The defendants would be on death row as we speak" if his plan had been carried out, Holder said.
Holder's KSM trial plans were announced in late 2009, and the attorney general quickly lost the political fight, though he kept clinging to the idea for another year.
Many Republicans in Congress rose up against the idea because they said it would endanger the U.S. and because they oppose closing the Guantanamo prison. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the federal courthouse area, and announced plans to cordon much of lower Manhattan in security checkpoints.
White House officials refused to allow Holder to defend his plan, while Republican lawmakers and community groups in lower Manhattan, gathered steam in opposition. White House officials feared the KSM trial would distract from the president's goals of passing his healthcare law and other political priorities.
Holder said Monday that it's now clear, a civilian trial would have been better for the country and wouldn't have required a $200 million security blanket nor a shutdown of lower Manhattan.
He said the episode is a reminder of what happens when politics are allowed to intrude on law enforcement matters.
Holder was speaking at a press conference to announce an unrelated criminal and civilian settlement against drug company Johnson & Johnson.