Attorney General Eric Holder forcefully defended the criminal justice system as a venue to try terrorists on Monday, following the guilty plea his department secured from a terrorist suspect who had plotted to blow up the New York City subway system.
Speaking shortly after Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, commit murder in a foreign country, and provide material support to al-Qaeda, Holder touted the ability of the criminal justice system to pry intelligence - and secure strong verdicts - in cases like this and others.
"As I have stated on other occasions, the criminal justice system also contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence that can be used in the fight against Al Qaeda," he said. "We will use all available tools whenever possible against suspected terrorists."
Under siege over the past month for his decision to try 9/11-plotter Kahlid Sheik Mohammad in a criminal court in Manhattan, the Zazi plea was undoubtedly a refreshing bit of news for the Holder Department of Justice.
An American citizen who was recruited by al Qaeda while fighting for Taliban troops in Pakistan, Zazi had plotted to set off a bomb in the New York City subway system this past fall. Authorities were able to intervene in time and, in the process, uncovered what they described as useful intelligence from his correspondence with al Qaeda.
Coming at roughly the same time as the decision to hold the KSM trials in New York, Zazi's case has not, similarly, been treated as a proxy battle over the efficacy of placing suspected terrorists in the criminal justice system. On Monday, however, Holder made the case that the guilty plea provided as solid example as any that the civilian system was equipped to handle terrorist threats.
"This demonstrates that our federal civilian criminal justice system... is a powerful tool in our fight against terrorism," he said. "It doesn't mean it is the only tool we should use. We have to couple it with what we do on the military side, what we do on the intelligence gathering side. But to take this tool out of our hands, to denigrate the use of this tool, flies in the face of the facts, flies in the face of the history of the use of this tool. It is more politics than about facts. "
Taking a noticeable swipe at his predominantly Republican detractors, he added:
"What happened today is consistent with what the Department of Justice, the FBI, the intelligence departments have done over the previous years... The one thing that should not be absent from that debate is the facts. This is a demonstration of the facts. This is not some kind of partisan, political act to shape something for the purposes of an election. I'm only dealing with the facts."
Captured in mid-September by authorities, Zazi was initially held in a Colorado facility pursuant to criminal complaint. Unlike KSM, he is a legal permanent resident of the United States. Zazi was transferred to New York after being indicted there and was subject to trial in the Eastern District of New York.