Attorney General Eric Holder today sent a letter to leaders in the Senate warning them against legislation that would prohibit the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prison detainees to the United States for any purpose -- including to stand trial. The House approved the measure on Wednesday.
Holder told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that the proposal goes far beyond existing law and would hamper the Obama administration's attempts to prosecute the alleged terrorists in federal court or in military commissions in the United States. It would also impede the administration's efforts to move the Guantanamo detainees and close the prison.
"In order to protect the American people as effectively as possible, we must be in a position to use every lawful instrument of national power to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice and can no longer threaten American lives," Holder wrote.
The House passed the proposal, which was included in a larger spending bill, on Wednesday by a vote of 212 to 206.
In his letter, Holder called the federal court system a "powerful and well-established tool" for prosecuting terrorists and warned that limiting the Justice Department's ability to use the court system was "an extreme and risky encroachment on the authority of the Executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute terrorist suspects."
Decisions about when and where to try terrorist suspects should be determined on an individual basis, Holder said, and preventing that would have serious implications the impartiality of the justice system.
"It would be a mistake to tie the hands of the President and his national security advisers now," he said.
The legislation comes after the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in civilian court. Ghailani was convicted of one conspiracy charge but acquitted of more than 280 other charges related to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. While Ghailani faces 20 years to life in prison, some called the verdict that the administration's plans to try alleged terrorists in federal courts risked letting alleged terrorists go free.
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.