Is KSM's Conviction a Fait Accompli?

Attorney General Eric Holder insists that the avowed 9/11 plotter will be found guilty. Is he misguided?

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On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Attorney General Eric Holder for hours about his decision to prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 hijackers in a New York civilian court. In the hearing, Holder told lawmakers a conviction was assured—and a civil court was the best venue to obtain that. At this point, tempers flared as Republican Sen. John Kyl asked how that could be, given that Mohammed already plead guilty before a military commission: ''How can you be more likely to get a conviction in a (civilian) court than that?'' Kyle's questioning advanced concerns about the potential of an acquittal (to say nothing of the prospects of terrorist grandstanding). Either way, in the wake of the hearing a handful of pundits have thrown a wet blanket on Holder's trial forecast:

  • How Can Holder Be So Sure? asks Craig Allen Silverman, a Denver Lawyer and co-host of KHOW’s Caplis & Silverman Show: "You cannot ever take a criminal conviction for granted. Few cases are so strong that an inept prosecutor cannot lose it... Don't get me wrong. I love the American court system. It is among the best and fairest on Earth. However, it has flaws which we are willing to endure and embrace in a normal criminal case. We let lots of guilty people go free to avoid convicting an innocent person."
  • A Conviction Is Not a Fait Accompli, writes Annemarie McAvoy at Fox News: "Holder...ignores the impact that the admitted waterboarding of terror suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could have on the terror trials. Not only will the statements that resulted from the 'torture' of KSM be withheld from the jury but any evidence that was gathered as a result of the information we learned from his statements would also be withheld. This could seriously impact the government's chances of getting a conviction or a death sentence."
  • Defendants Could Successfully File for a Change of Venue, write Eric Lichtblau and Benjamin Weiser in The New York Times: "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s lawyers, whoever they are, will no doubt question whether he can get a fair trial from a jury sitting, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. noted, in a Manhattan courthouse 'just blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood.' Then will come the inevitable challenges to interrogation methods used on Mr. Mohammed during more than six years in detention. The government has acknowledged waterboarding him 183 times to extract information about the Sept. 11 attacks, which he eventually admitted planning. Finally, if Mr. Mohammed is convicted, defense lawyers will most likely plead for jurors in New York, historically more cautious about capital punishment than much of the rest of country, to spare the sentence of execution and send him to prison for the rest of his life instead."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.