Michael Mukasey, the attorney general at the end of President Bush's second term, ripped his successor's decision to prosecute the Sept. 11 conspirators in a federal court, saying the trial will give jihadists a forum and could compromise delicate intelligence.
Mukasey, in an interview with Fox News, called the civilian trial announced Friday by Attorney General Eric Holder "the wrong place, under the wrong circumstances, in the wrong forum."
"After 9/11, we recognized that we were at war," he said, arguing that military tribunals were created for this kind of case and noting that they have been used since the Revolutionary War and during and after World War II.
"There are forums that allow the presentation of evidence in a controlled atmosphere, where you can limit access to classified information, and where you can receive evidence gathered on the battlefield, not necessarily under the kinds of conditions in which police gather evidence in a conventional case," he said. "That's not true in federal court."
On Friday, Holder announced that the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will be tried in federal court in New York for their alleged role in the attacks that killed 2,976 American civilians -- saying the U.S. will seek the death penalty against the defendants.
Holder said he decided to seek justice against the suspects in federal court rather than a military tribunal because the attacks targeted civilians on U.S. soil. But Mukasey and other critics say the attack was an act of war that should be prosecuted in a military tribunal.
Mukasey said it's unlikely that Mohammed will be acquitted because of his confession and other evidence linking him to the attack. But he added that same evidence could present problems in federal court.
"The real problem is that there is other evidence that may very well come from classified sources, that would be easier to handle in a military tribunal, much harder to handle in a civilian tribunal," Mukasey said.
He added that the trial also puts the terrorists on the kind of stage they seek.
"They want to be on a big stage and there's no bigger stage than New York," he said.
Fox News' Emma Haberl contributed to this report.