January 31, 2010

White House: No decision yet on moving 9/11 trial

Posted: 07:48 PM ET

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is among those suspects set to face a trial in a civilian criminal court. Washington (CNN) - No decision has been made on whether to change the current plan to hold the September 11 terrorist attack trial in a civilian court in lower Manhattan, White House officials said Sunday.

Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians expressed concern over the costs and disruption of holding the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accomplices at a New York City courthouse.

David Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday that Obama believes the trial should take place in a criminal court instead of before a military commission, as permitted for some terrorism suspects.

However, Axelrod and Gibbs acknowledged that Obama and the Justice Department were considering moving the trial from New York City.

"We've made no decisions on that yet," Axelrod said on the NBC program "Meet the Press." Gibbs, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," also said the location of the trial was under discussion, but he expressed certainty that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, "is going to meet justice and he's going to meet his maker."

Gibbs and Axelrod criticized Republican opposition to the plan to hold the trial in a criminal court, saying no one complained when the previous administration of Republican President George W. Bush put terrorism suspects such as "shoe bomber" Richard Reid on trial in U.S. criminal courts.

"Now we have a Democratic president and suddenly we hear these protests," Axelrod said. "What has changed between now and then that would cause people to reverse positions?"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told the CNN program that the Bush administration was wrong to hold terrorism trials on U.S. soil. Instead, trials for dangerous terrorism suspects should be held by military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility where they currently are held, McConnell said.

Obama intends to shut down the Guantanamo facility by transferring the roughly 200 suspects to the United States to stand trial or face indefinite detention, or to third countries. McConnell said Sunday he would fight that plan by trying to withhold federal spending for it.

"'I think that will be done on a bipartisan basis," McConnell said of congressional opposition, adding that "whatever domestic support they had for this is totally collapsing."

White House officials say the decision about any possible alternate sites to try Mohammed and the others will come from the Justice Department.

New York police estimated that the cost to the city would be more than $200 million per year in what could be a multi-year trial and that more than 2,000 checkpoints would need to be installed around Lower Manhattan. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said additional protection would have to be deployed for the city, not just "the core area of Manhattan."

Bloomberg initially supported the move, saying "it is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site where so many New Yorkers were murdered."

However, Bloomberg used different rhetoric last week when asked about a community agency's proposals to relocate the trial, saying he would prefer the trial be held elsewhere, perhaps at a military base where it would be easier and cheaper to provide security.

"It's going to cost an awful lot of money and disturb a lot of people," Bloomberg said.

On Thursday, several New York Democratic politicians urged the Obama administration to thoroughly re-examine locating the trial in downtown Manhattan.

Julie Menin, chairwoman of a city community advisory agency, proposed four alternative locations for the trial within the Southern District of New York: Governors Island, Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the Bureau of Prisons jail complex at FCI Otisville.

A West Point spokesman said no one has officially requested a review of demands for such a trial, which would require in-depth study of legal and security concerns.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Dean Boyd said the Justice Department "can safely prosecute this case in the Southern District of New York while minimizing disruptions to the community to the greatest extent possible, consistent with security needs."

Filed under: 9/11 • Crime • Justice • Larry King Live • Politics • Terrorism

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Dodie   January 31st, 2010 10:44 pm ET

Since the formation of the Military Commissions in November 2001, they have only had 1 negotiated, 1 plea bargain, and 1 convicted defendant after he boycotted the proceedings. Due to this paltry record of trials, they seem untested, uncertain, and a possible unacceptable risk as there is serious questions about the commissions’ legality. Congress has attempted to modify the commissions’ procedures; however, they still are exposed to legal challenges and the previous version of the commissions was considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There seems to be serious questions about whether, material support for terrorism will be available to prosecutors because it is not considered a “war crime”.

Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, was tried in a Military Commission’s court. Military prosecutors accused Hamdan of transporting weapons to battlefields in Afghanistan and being a close associate of the Al Qaeda leader. Despite the gravity of these charges Hamdan’s trial resulted in a split verdict; therefore, the military jury acquitted him of conspiracy and returned a guilty verdict only on the charge of material support for terrorism.

Due to the poor track record, it is amazing that conservatives’ proclaim the Military Commissions as their trial of choice. The evidence of the eight-year Military Commissions demonstrate an unacceptable risk of trusting the prosecution with high-level terrorists in such an untested and uncertain system.

Since 2001, in the same period as the Military Commissions have convicted just three terrorists, the criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system.

The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands far above the shockingly poor Military Commissions system

luckybee   January 31st, 2010 11:15 pm ET

We have always treat our captured enemy's not by a civilian court but by a millitary court.As far as I can remember,we tried them after the war is over, and not in the mid of it?Although I am a not a USA citicent, I think I must admit that I don't understand the point of the demokrats.May be because most of them are Katholiek?or ex Katholieks and became Marxist?And ergo knew nothing about the Bible?Or only what the Katholiek Church want them to know?

A. Smith, Oregon   February 1st, 2010 1:45 am ET

Tonight, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated the outcome of this trial would be death. I guess that is what a already done deal?

Certainly when the handpicked judge for Saddam came from the Kurdish region, no one could state that was even remotely fair and impartial as to the judge determining any charges against Saddam as guilty or not.

If the White House is so determined to execute this defendant, why even waste the time with a show trial? And where would you find impartial jurists in New York city?

Cynthia   February 1st, 2010 4:46 pm ET

Is Heather Mills charity been shut down? Also did the Iranian government say they are going upset the Christian, Judeo world this Feb 11, check out Joel Rosenbergs web site. Should we be worried about security at the olympics?

Catherine   February 1st, 2010 11:04 pm ET

they should do the trial in manhattan and find them all guilty, and then binladin and find him or kill him

Cajazz76:24:8   February 2nd, 2010 1:18 am ET

Larry, where has come down to the money. How much will it cost? To have the trials in NYC could be cost prohibitive. On top of a scaffold near the trap door in an area of the United States that no ones security should be compromised but the nation will know that justice prevailed. Case closed.....

Ted   February 2nd, 2010 1:40 pm ET

I would like to recommend Ft. Leavanworth as the site for the trial.
If it is secure to hold our gold reserves that it should be OK to keep those judges safe. The cost will be minimum.

Rose   February 2nd, 2010 7:02 pm ET

So the Republicans want the suspects to be tried in Military Commissions instead of civilian court, outside of the US – i.e. Gitmo. When the GW Bush Administration created the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), they created a new third category of prisoner outside existing laws. The assertion was that "terror suspects" seized in the "War on Terror" were "unlawful enemy combatants" rather than prisioners of war or criminal suspects.

Before this ludicrous creation, soldiers in wartime were held as prisoners of war until the end of hostilities and were protected by the Geneva Conventions, and terrorists were criminal suspects, to be tried in federal court trials.

The Act changed pre-existing law to forbid explicitly the invocation of the Geneva Conventions when executing the writ of habeas corpus (where a person can seek relief from their unlawful detention) or in other civil action. The MCA redefines unlawful enemy combatant in such a broad way that it refers to any person who is engaged in hostilities, including American citizens. A past legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights noted this made it possible for US citizens to be designated unlawful enemy combatants because it could be read to include anyone who has donated money to a charity for orphans in Afghanistan or a person organizing an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. – the right of habeas corpus might be denied to US citizens.

Immediately after Bush signed the Act into law, the U.S. Justice Department notified the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the Court no longer had jurisdiction over a combined habeas case that it had been considering since 2004.

An editorial in the New York Times described Bush's Act as "a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy". The American Civil Liberties Union noted that Military Commissions can "indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions".

Military defense attorneys assigned to represent prisoners in the Commissions realized that the system was designed solely to secure convictions. This realization was the basis for their unanimous opposition to the Commissions' very existence. US Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift who represented Salim Hamdan, one of Bin Laden's drivers said "The whole purpose of setting up Guantanamo Bay is for torture. Why do this? Because you want to escape the rule of law and question people coercively (torture). Guantanamo and the military commissions are implements for breaking the law".

Conservatives in the US need to consider what the meaning of law is first Constitutionally before supporting actions that destroy it. They had no problem supporting Bush's illegal war by international standards against Iraq and seem committed to continuing their flawed reasoning. The just application of law is more important than securing verdicts based on torture and lies. Let those accused be tried based on evidence against them.

Republican Mitch McConnell and those of his ilk, by their opposition to civilian trials, refuse to learn these important points in American Constitutional law. They chose to defend gravely faulty GOP policies that contradicts both domestic and internationally held laws. The ghost of GW Bush-past is still haunting them. An exorcism for the GOP is desperately required.

Rose   February 2nd, 2010 8:34 pm ET

In 2002 GW Bush said the following concerning terrorism:

"I don't know where Bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." Later: "I am truly not that concerned about him."

So what has been the focus from 2002 to January 2009 when the Republicans left office? Catching terrorists or using them as an all-purpose excuse to politically expedite their reasoning to destroy the Constitution or scaring Americans into supporting their tactics.

Finally, Bush and Cheney admitted Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11 or WMD. They need to repeat that personally to all the American families who lost their sons/daughters in service (as does former PM Tony Blair to British families). Then we need to ask why the Republicans support Military Commissions. What other lies are occurring now with the Republicans' opposition to Obama wanting to close Guantanamo or hold civilian trials? Finding terrorists – by GW Bush's own admission – was not a priority from 2002-2009.

When are Bush and Cheney going to be held responsible for war crimes? Will that justice ever occur? The ongoing perpetuation of their policies by the Republicans now is shameful. President Obama has a huge mess to clean up, especially with foreign policy and the GOP resistence is getting tedious.

Dodie   February 4th, 2010 2:35 am ET


The wars are used as a means to funnel the American tax-payers money to the 1% who own everything here in the US. Just as a handful of CEOs from the Mega corporations are receiving the billions of dollars. Under the second Cheney/Bush Administration, never before in the history of the US have we, the people, been rendered so powerless by the ruling corporate elite. We are being economically dismantled by the Mega corporate leaches many of whom are unknown entities as they never become newsworthy! President Obama is fighting with everything he has, but this entity is just too powerful. It has been in existence for 50+ years; however since Cheney/bush era, the corporate power and ownership of this country has increased exponentially; eventually collapsing Democracy if we are not very careful.

Rose   February 4th, 2010 5:01 pm ET

@ Dodie

Yes, the wars were an excuse to create mass profits. That's quite evident. A number of Democrats are backing out of supporting President Obama re: civilian trials. The mid-term elections are coming up and their constituants are opposing civilian trials for Gitmo detainees. As usual, they fear losing their seats.

Although there is understandable vitriolic feelings for the detainees, defending our Constitution is paramount. Military Commissions destroy the Constitution. Perhaps the average American is not aware of the difference. The lynch mob attitude that is presented by the Republicans is harmful to the specifics of the American Constitution.

Yes, we want justice for 9/11 – but the word is "justice", not disguised summary executions based on evidence obtained by torture.

"Defend the Constitution" – does that hold any meaning anymore?

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