July 11, 2010

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have questioned an Obama administration plan to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in civilian courts. But the alternative -- military tribunals -- may prevent suspects from being sentenced to the harshest of penalties.

Attorney General Eric Holder told CBS News Sunday that it may not be possible to sentence detainees to death if they plead guilty in a military tribunal.

"Can you, in fact, seek the death penalty when you take someone before a military tribunal?" asked CBS' Bob Schieffer. "I know you can in a civilian court because I've had some lawyers tell me that that might not be possible [in a military tribunal]."

"You can seek the death penalty," explained Holder. "There's a real question as to whether someone can plead guilty and get the death penalty on the military side. You can certainly do that in a civilian setting."

"It's interesting nobody has made much of that. That this is so controversial. I'm surprised that those of you that favor the civilian trial haven't said to some who want to put these people before a military tribunal, 'look, we might not get the death penalty,'" noted Schieffer.

But Holder resisted using the death penalty as an argument for civilian trials.

"One of the thing that is particularly bothersome to me, this is something that has become political. The politicization of this issue when we're dealing with ultimate national security issues is something that disturbs me a great deal," said Holder.

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