WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder raised questions Sunday about whether it would be possible to impose the death penalty on Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if he were to plead guilty before a military commission.
Holder proposed last year trying Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in civilian courts in New York City. But that idea generated so much controversy that it's all but been abandoned.
He told CBS' "Face the Nation" that it's possible to impose the death penalty in a civilian setting for someone who pleads guilty. But he says there's far less legal certainty about that possibility in a military setting.
Since January, Holder has said that all options are on the table about where to try Mohammed and the four other terrorist suspects. That includes the possibility of having them go before a military commission at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are now held.
"We are still in the process of considering that," Holder said, adding "No decision's been made yet as to exactly where the trial is going to occur."
But many are still pushing for the trial to be held in a military court, and the process has bogged down with no trial yet underway more than eight years after the attacks.
"Justice has been denied too long," Holder insisted.
"What we want to do is to hold accountable as effectively as we can the people who are responsible for what happened on September the 11th."
President Barack Obama has vowed to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay US military prison in Cuba where the men are currently being held.
And the administration had initially pushed for the five co-plotters to be tried in New York, just steps from where the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center took place.
But the move has been stiffly opposed by Republican lawmakers and residents in New York still scarred by the events of that September morning when planes hi-jacked by Al-Qaeda militants were flown into the Twin Towers.
Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, in which a plane also plunged into the Pentagon close to the capital, Washington, while passengers on a fourth jet battled their hijackers, crashing into a Pennsylvania field.
Holder acknowledged that the administration had run into problems in bringing the men to New York for trial.
"We've had to deal with a variety of things. Funding, and dealing with Congress," he said, adding there had also been concerns from local officials.
Several bills before Congress have conditioned funding for various initiatives on an insistence that none of the men held at Guantanamo Bay should be brought to US soil.
"We're going to have to work with Congress in order, I think, ultimately to bring this case to trial," Holder told CBS.
"And I think that given the magnitude of what happened on September the 11th and the need to bring justice and closure to this that people in Congress need to work with us in the executive branch to come up with a way in which we can put these people on trial."
© AFP 2013