Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Tuesday that Osama bin Laden will never face trial in the United States because he will not be captured alive.
In testy exchanges with House Republicans, the attorney general compared terrorists to mass murderer Charles Manson and predicted that events would ensure "we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden" not to the al-Qaida leader as a captive.
Holder sternly rejected criticism from GOP members of a House Appropriations subcommittee, who contend it is too dangerous to put terror suspects on trial in federal civilian courts as Holder has proposed.
The attorney general said it infuriates him to hear conservative critics complain that terrorists would get too many rights in the court system.
Terrorists in court "have the same rights that Charles Manson would have, any other kind of mass murderer," the attorney general said. "It doesn't mean that they're going to be coddled, it doesn't mean that they're going to be treated with kid gloves."
The comparison to convicted killer Manson angered Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who said it showed the Obama administration doesn't understand the American public's desire to treat terrorists as wartime enemies, not criminal defendants.
"My constituents and I just have a deep-seated and profound philosophical difference with the Obama administration," Culberson said.
Holder, his voice rising, charged that Culberson's arguments ignored basic facts about the law and the fight against terrorists.
"Let's deal with reality," Holder said. "The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom."
Pressed further on that point, Holder said: "The possibility of catching him alive is infinitesimal. He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people so he can't be captured by us."
Much of the hearing centered around the Obama administration's stalled plan to put the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on trial. Last year, Holder announced the trial would take place in federal civilian court in New York City, not far from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.
In the face of resistance from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local politicians, that plan was shelved and the White House is now considering putting KSM and four alleged co-conspirators into a military commission trial.
Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., bemoaned what he called a "cowardly" desire to avoid a civilian terror trial in a major city.
If a terrorist had killed thousands of Philadelphians, Fattah said, "we would expect him to come to Philadelphia" to face trial "if he would live long enough."
"It doesn't befit a great nation to hesitate or equivocate on the question of following our own laws," he said.
In other testimony:
— Holder defended the interrogation of the suspect in the attempted Christmas bombing of an airliner at it approached Detroit. He said the questioning produced very valuable intelligence and disputed the notion that reading the suspect his Miranda rights prevented further intelligence-gathering. The suspect resumed cooperating later, officials have said.
Holder's remarks led to an angry exchange with Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who claimed "there was an opportunity that was missed and we will never get it back again."
Holder shot back: "That is simply not true."
— The attorney general also acknowledged an ongoing probe into whether defense teams representing Guantanamo Bay detainees may have wrongly obtained photographs of CIA interrogators — pictures that could, some fear, endanger those interrogators.
— Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., offered support for Holder's now-dormant plan to try the Sept. 11 suspects in New York. But Serrano himself acknowledged he was the only elected New York official who still supported the idea.
"I thought it was very dramatic to say I'm not afraid of you'" to the terrorists, Serrano said.
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