Top US House Democrat questions 9/11 criminal trials

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, Representative Ike Skelton, cast doubt on Friday about the Obama administration's decision to try the Sept. 11, 2001, conspirators in a U.S. criminal court.

Skelton, a fellow Democrat of President Barack Obama, asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to brief the committee about the decision to use the criminal courts instead of the revamped military commissions.

"As a former prosecutor, I am not yet convinced that the right decision was made in these cases, nor that the presumption in favor of federal criminal trials over military tribunals for these detainees should continue," Skelton said in a letter to the two officials.

Holder this week defended his decision to move the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four other alleged conspirators to a federal criminal court in New York from military commissions.

It has been mostly Republicans who have been critical of Holder's decision, questioning whether it will be easier to get a conviction in a criminal court rather than a military one because some of the evidence was obtained through coercive interrogations and probably cannot be used.

Holder has said he is aware of evidence that has not been made public that will help convict the five accused men. He expressed confidence that the trials would be successful.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said they would review Skelton's letter. A Defense Department spokesman declined comment. (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Chris Wilson)