The decision of Attorney General Eric Holder Friday to relocate five Guantanamo Bay detainees to New York City for trial in federal court was blasted by his predecessor later in the day.
During a meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington on November 13, Michael Mukasey, who was attorney general in the last two years of the Bush administration, warned that with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad and other terrorists in New York, the question will now be ”whether the city will then become the focus of mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheik Muhammad.”
Mukasey, a former prosecutor and U.S. District judge from New York, was responding to me regarding an interview I had earlier that day with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch about Holder’s decision to transfer the Guantanamo inmates to New York for incarceration and trial.
“I’m not going to second-guess Eric Holder,” Koch had told me, voicing his “great confidence” in the attorney general. “The U.S. should not fear to incarcerate [Guantanamo detainees] and New York, like any other place, has to do its share.”
Koch, who served as the city’s Democratic mayor from 1977-89, went on to say that the Manhattan Corrections Center (where the detainees will be held pending trial) is a “very secure institution” that can be depended upon to hold the prisoners.
“If we decide to try them here [in the United States],” added Koch, “then it’s an outrage to say they can’t be tried in New York.”
So what, I asked Koch’s fellow New Yorker Mukasey, does he think of the former mayor’s comments on their city holding the detainees?
“Yeah, the MCC is a very secure place,” shot back Mukasey, “All that shows is that if you ask the wrong question, you’re sure to get the wrong answer.”
“Of course it’s secure. They’re not going to escape. The question is not whether they are going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility but the city at large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Whether this raises the odds that it will, I would suggest to you that it raises them very high [emphasis added].”
Mukasey went on to say “the proceeding, assuming it goes forward within the lifetime of everyone in this room, is one where confidential information is able to be kept confidential and whether the trial is able to proceed in an orderly fashion.”
He also said of Holder’s decision that “I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. I think it would have been far preferable to have tried these cases in the venue that Congress created for trying them and where they were to be tried [before Holder moved them].”
In his address to the Federalist Society, Mukasey slammed the Obama administration, charging it has “abandoned the view we should be in a war” and reverted to a “9/10” attitude regarding criminal justice (referring to the attitude before 9/11, when how the judicial system deals with terrorists suddenly became a top issue).
This is just the latest in a long string of what the nation’s former top law enforcement official called “pullbacks” in the U.S. attitude toward intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism, “beginning with Watergate, followed by the Church Committee [which investigated the CIA in 1975].” This “9/10” attitude, Mukasey recalled, “prevailed in the 1990s, when we had the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.”