Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in a major reversal for the Obama administration, 'reluctantly' announces that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspects in the September 11 terror attacks will be tried before a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rather than in a civilian court in New York.
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
2:11 p.m. CDT, April 4, 2011
WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced "reluctantly" that the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four other suspects will face justice before a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay rather than in a civilian court in New York.
The decision marks a major reversal both for President Obama and Holder, especially since the president initially promised to shut down the prison at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay — where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the others will now be tried.
"Sadly, this case has been marked by needless controversy since the beginning," Holder said, revealing that a 2009 indictment against Mohammed and the four others has sat for months under seal in federal court in New York, without ever proceeding. "But despite all the argument and debate it has engendered, the prosecution for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators should never have been about settling ideological arguments or scoring political points."
Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, who vigorously opposed a federal civilian trial for the alleged Sept. 11 plotters welcomed the news that the White House and Holder had reversed their earlier decision to move the defendants from Cuba to New York.
"For the sake of the safety and security of the American people, I'm glad the president reconsidered his position,'' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor. "Going forward, this model should be the rule rather than the exception."
In late 2009, the attorney general said that the trials of the five men would be held in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, a decision that at first was met with general public approval.
But by early 2010, Holder and the Justice Department were running into steep opposition from New York politicians from both parties, along with much of the public, who were concerned that a civilian trial would cost too much, place New York once again in the terror spotlight, and possibly endanger the New York public. At the same time, there were mounting protests over a new Muslim mosque center near the trade center site as well.
Republicans were so incensed that on Capitol Hill, joining with a good number of Democrats, they passed legislation to prohibit spending any federal funds to move terror detainees from the Cuban prison to the U.S. for civilian trials.
That move in essence blocked the administration's attempts for civilian trials, and last month Obama announced that he was restarting the military tribunal process at Guantanamo Bay.