The chair of the House Armed Services Committee has sent a letter demanding the appearance of Attorney General Eric Holder to explain his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators in federal court. Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat and former prosecutor, says the decision raises “many serious questions” to which Skelton would like answers. Skelton also wants to make sure that Holder doesn’t continue to favor federal court trials over military tribunals:
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists.
“As a former prosecutor, I am not yet convinced that the right decision was made in these cases, nor that the presumption in favor of federal criminal trials over military tribunals for these detainees should continue,” Skelton wrote. …
“The decision to terminate the prosecution of these self-confessed terrorists in military commissions, transfer them to the United States, and bring them into a federal courthouse for trial raises many serious questions which I would like you both to address in a full committee briefing on December 3, 2009, at 1:00 PM,” Skelton requested.
The letter, which The Hill reprints in full at the jump, expresses Skelton’s skepticism politely but unmistakably. Skelton reminds Holder that he worked hard to ensure a fair system for all of the Gitmo detainees in the military commissions system, and that effort was meant to prevent the very decision Holder and Barack Obama have made. More to the point, Skelton also wants an answer on what will happen with the rest of the detainees. So far, only ten decisions have been made — five for federal court and five for military commissions. Skelton, like many, cannot determine how Holder and Obama decided which went where, and implies that it seems arbitrary and not based on any legal considerations.
This is the first significant public pushback from a Democratic Congressman, although some in the Senate expressed at least reservations during Holder’s appearance this week. It probably won’t be the last. After all, it was a Democratic Congress that passed the current military commissions system, working with a Republican President, to find a system that would get the blessing of the Supreme Court while maintaining security for our war efforts in intelligence. Without the Democrats in 2007, there would have been no military commissions system at all. That default would have forced KSM and everyone else at Gitmo into federal court eventually, an outcome that few wanted to see … at least in 2007.