At a briefing in his Justice Department office this afternoon, AG Eric Holder took aim at congressional opposition to bringing terror suspects from Gitmo to the US for trial.
Last week, the House voted overwhelmingly to deny funds to pay for prisoner transfers, citing the fears about terrorists on US soil that have been commonplace on Capitol Hill since President Obama first announced his intention to close Gitmo in a year on Jan 22.
Holder said the vote will slow future prosecutions of Gitmo detainees.
“The restrictions we’ve had to deal with give me great concern,” he said. “They’ve made it harder for us” to bring prisoners to trial.
Holder said he faces an uphill climb convincing Congress to allow Gitmo prisoners into the US for trial, but he said he plans on taking his case directly to reticent members on their turf if necessary. Holder said he’s “had discussions” about going to Capitol Hill to argue the case before last week’s House vote, which was nonbinding, becomes part of a future Homeland Security bill.
“We have to make them understand we have the capacity to house these people,” he said, pointing out several high-level convicted terrorists already housed in federal prisons after going to trial here in previous years.
As for the Jan. 22, 2010 deadline for closure of Gitmo, Holder said meeting that date will be “difficult.” But he said “that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to do that.”
For his part, Holder said Justice Dept. lawyers “are going through the files” of every detainee at Gitmo to determine how to deal with their case. Holder said the process will be complete by Nov. 16. Whether the end of the review will signal a final chapter in the history of the Gitmo terror detention center remains to be seen.
Despite the political difficulties it has caused, Holder praised Obama’s Gitmo deadline in the briefing. “It was the right thing to do,” he said. “The timing was wise and it led to the progress we have made.”