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Attorney General Eric Holder / Matt Rourke, AP

Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the successful prosecution of al-Qaeda propagandist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, "vindicated'' the government's disputed contention that terror suspects could be safely tried in civilian courts, and he vowed to bring additional cases.

"The system is both tried and tested,'' Holder said in New York where Abu Ghaith last week was the most senior member of the terrorist organization to be tried and convicted in the U.S. "Its strength is founded on more than two centuries of rigorous precedent and deep experience. Abu Ghaith was not the first individual to be convicted in a federal court for his role in terrorist activities, and he will not be the last.''

The attorney general, who three years ago was forced to abandon a politically contentious plan to prosecute 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in a New York federal court in favor of military commissions, said that it was "eminently fitting that this defendant (Abu Ghaith), who publicly gloated about the attacks on the World Trade Center, stood trial near where those buildings once stood.

"This verdict has proven beyond any doubt that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call home, as in other locations across our nation.''

The Obama administration faced immediate and strong opposition from some members of Congress - both Democratic and Republican - New York City officials and 9/11 victims' families after announcing the original plan to prosecute Mohammed and the other suspects in a New York federal courtroom, just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Some of the lawmakers, including New York Democratic Sen. Charles Shumer and Republican Pete King, raised daunting questions about the prospect of securing such a major trial and the possibility that terrorists could seek to disrupt the proceedings with new attacks on the city.

The opposition ultimately forced the administration's legal capitulation, sending Mohammed and the other suspects to Guantanamo Bay, where they are awaiting trial scheduled for September.

Abu Gaith's prosecution faced similar but lesser opposition, though a representative of a 9/11 survivors group said the organization would not endorse Holder's call for additional civilian court prosecutions.

"It's kind of like Holder is putting this in our face,'' said Tim Sumner, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America. "It's appalling to think that we would give somebody like (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) a stage six blocks from where he committed mass murder."

"There has never been a question that federal courts could be used,'' said Sumner, whose brother-in-law was killed in the World Trade Center attack. "It's whether the federal courts are an appropriate venue. We believe military commissions are the appropriate place for war criminals.''

Since the 2001 attacks, Holder said, federal prosecutors have won convictions against 165 suspects in terror-related cases and vowed to "continue to rely'' on the federal courts.

"While our military courts remain an appropriate venue in certain circumstances, decisions on how best to seek convictions against terrorism defendants must always be based on prosecutorial considerations, never political ones.''



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Holder renews call for civilian terror trials

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