Holder: ‘Failure is Not An Option’ in 9/11 Trials

November 19, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that one reason he decided to try the five suspected 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court is because that was where he would most likely be able to win a conviction. As he said later in the hearing: “Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect that we will have a contrary result.”

Holder was trying to reassure his many Republican critics, who insist that trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged al-Qaeda colleagues in a New York federal court is a “grievous mistake” that will endanger American citizens and undermine the “war on terror.”

But Holder’s statement was also eerily reminiscent of one made during the Bush administration by Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes — a statement which outraged Democrats and contributed to the resignation of the military’s top prosecutor.

In October 2007, Col. Morris Davis resigned from his post as military commission chief prosecutor, saying that he refused to report to Haynes. Davis later testified that he felt there was interference in his cases from Defense Department officials, citing specifically Haynes’ statement that “We can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.”

Haynes resigned several months later.

Davis, now a civilian, is still concerned about justice and the appearance of justice for Guantanamo detainees. He recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that using both federal courts and military commissions to try terror suspects “is a mistake. It will establish a dangerous legal double standard that gives some detainees superior rights and protections, and relegates others to the inferior rights and protections of military commissions. This will only perpetuate the perception that Guantanamo and justice are mutually exclusive.”