WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that Congress would be setting a dangerous precedent if it prohibited the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States where they could stand trial.
At a news conference, the attorney general criticized the proposed ban which is contained in a broad measure to freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments and fund the war in Afghanistan for another year.
The congressional proposal would take away the administration's ability to hold accountable those "who have committed mass murder," the attorney general told the news conference.
Holder declined to address whether the president would veto the appropriations measure over the Guantanamo provision if the legislation cleared Capitol Hill.
The executive branch "must have every lawful instrument of national power to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice," Holder said in a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"My job is to decide these matters based on what is best for the country, not based on politics," Holder told a reporter minutes after the end of the news conference, which focused on international cooperation between the European Union and the United States.
A year ago, Holder announced that professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and co-conspirators would be tried in federal civilian court in New York City, not far from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. Holder said there was public support for his decision at the time, but that the issue became enmeshed in election-year politics.
Faced with opposition in New York and from Republicans in Congress, the administration decided to review its trial plans for detainees. The original Holder idea has been viewed as all-but-dead, but the administration has yet to propose an alternative.
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