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."
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.
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," he said. "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.
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 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 Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local politicians, that plan was shelved.