WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorney General Eric Holder defended trying terrorists suspects in civil court in a House Judicial Committee hearing Thursday, the same day FBI agents made three arrests related to the attempted Times Square bombing. “The criminal justice system has proven its strength,” Holder said.
He cited the case of Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who tried to detonate a fuel bomb in a Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square on May 1. Holder commended Shahzad’s quick apprehension, which took place less than 53 hours after the bombing attempt.
In an oversight hearing, Holder assured skeptical Republican lawmakers that the criminal justice system was strong enough to handle terrorist suspects like Shahzad. Republicans have argued that terrorist suspects — U.S. citizens or not — should immediately be treated as enemy combatants and then tried in military tribunals instead of civil court.
“As one of the counterterrorism tools available to us, the criminal justice system has proven its strength in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence,” Holder said. Holder emphasized that Shahzad has provided “useful information” during questioning by federal agents, a point he has brought up several times in hearings over the past few weeks.
“We now believe that the Pakistan Taliban was responsible for the attempted attack,” Holder said.
Shahzad said during questioning that he received training to make bombs in Pakistan, according to the criminal complaint against him.
“We are currently working with the authorities in Pakistan on this investigation, and we will use every resource available to make sure that anyone found responsible, whether they be in the United States or overseas, is held accountable,” Holder told the committee.
But committee ranking member Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, seemed unsatisfied. “Our national terrorism policy should consist of more than just dumb bombers and smart citizens,” he said.
Rep. Trent Frank, R-Ariz., echoed Smith’s sentiments. “It was the incompetencies of our enemies that saved us instead of the competencies of our policies,” Frank said.
The environment in the hearing room was one of unresolved complaints rather than constructive criticism of the agency.
Holder continued to defend the Justice Department, stating that in 2009 more individuals were charged with terrorism violations than any year since 2001.
“Protecting America against acts of terrorism remains the highest priority of the Department of Justice,” he said.
“The administration will continue to use all lawful means to protect the national security of the United States, including, where appropriate, military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic tools and authorities,” Holder said.
The hearing was held as FBI officials in the northeast issued search warrants and made arrests related to the bombing attempt, including three arrests for immigration violations. The raids, which occurred in Boston and New York, were based on evidence gathered during the investigation of the attempted bombing and may provide clues as to how the attempt was funded.
Holder let the committee know that the raids were taking place.
Republican lawmakers also brought up the decision by law enforcement to read Miranda rights to Shahzad a few hours into his investigation. Republicans have been speaking out against the practice of reading Miranda rights to terrorist suspects.
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., said he was “concerned” about the reading of the Miranda warning to Shahzad.
“Giving terrorists the same constitutional rights as American citizens — when they themselves follow no legal code of conduct — is unacceptable and will only weaken our ability to protect the public,” Lungren said in a statement.
Holder emphasized that Shahzad has continued to be helpful despite having been informed of his rights.
The administration is toying with the idea of expanding a public safety exemption to reading Miranda rights to include terrorist suspects, which would allow law enforcement officials to skip reading Miranda rights to terrorist suspects, but police could still use their statements in court.
Committee chair Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., called the public safety exception “unnecessary and a mistake.”
“The current system has worked effectively,” he said.