The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, said he is skeptical that the federal government would cover the cost of trying Sept. 11 suspects in a Manhattan courtroom, reports The Associated Press.
Yesterday, President Obama said he had not ruled out holding the trial in New York City. In recent weeks, the administration’s decision to try the alleged 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City has drawn growing criticism.
Bloomberg told the AP on Monday that he wants the Obama administration to guarantee it will help pay for added security the city would have to provide for the trial of professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices.
According to AP, the mayor said he is skeptical “because a lot of times the federal government promises to pay and then the monies don’t come.”
“So, I’d like some assurance because the taxpayers in New York City are certainly strapped,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Bloomberg announced he was opposed to holding the trials in New York City, citing the expense of security.
The president told CBS News on Sunday, “I have not ruled it out, but I think it’s important for us to take into account the practical, logistical issues involved. I mean, if you have a city that is saying no, and a police department that is saying no, and a mayor that is saying no; that makes it difficult.”
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A Senate Republican leader suggested Sunday that Attorney General Eric Holder should consider resigning over the decision to criminally charge alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab rather than put him in military custody for interrogation.
Holder is “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists, and he’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants and terrorists flying into Detroit trying to blow up planes and American citizens who are committing a crime,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday.
“He needs to go to Congress and say I made that decision, and here’s why. And based on that perhaps he should step down,” Alexander said, according to The Hill.
Alexander is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the Senate. He is among the least partisan of Senate Republicans, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly, which found the Tennessee Republican was among those GOP senators who voted most often with President Barack Obama.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and four top Republican committee members wrote in a letter to Holder that the decision to have FBI agents instead of intelligence officials interrogate Abdulmutallab was “hasty. The Nigerian national and alleged al-Qaeda-linked operative is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in his underwear.
Holder has been under fire from Republicans for a number of national security decisions, including his decision in August to appoint a special prosecutor, John Durham, to investigate whether CIA employees and contractors broke anti-torture laws during the Bush administration.
The decision to have Durham look into the matter came on heels of the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility recommendation that urged Holder to reopen nearly a dozen alleged CIA prisoner-abuse cases.
Holder also backed release of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos in April that justified brutal interrogation techniques that critics consider torture. The White House at the time fretted over the political implications of releasing the memos but ultimately decided the matter was the Attorney General’s call.
And on Friday, the Obama administration reversed Holder’s November decision to hold a trial in Lower Manhattan of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The decision to move the trial came after a bipartisan outpouring of criticism about the security costs and disruptions of holding a trial in New York.
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The Obama administration will move the trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects out of New York City, news outlets are reporting.
The decision to move the trial came two days New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) on Wednesday reversed his support for holding the trial in lower Manhattan, citing security costs and disruptions to businesses and residents.
But resistance to the trial location had begun “gathering steam” in December, The New York Times reported.
Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, told President Obama’s political advisor David Axelrod after a dinner in New York on Dec. 14 that Manhattan was an inappropriate venue for the trial, the Times said.
In November, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his decision to try Mohammed and other accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, he cited the symbolism of bringing the men to “justice” near the site of the World Trade Center towers, which were demolished in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice,” Holder said in a statement in November. “They will be brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood.”
But Bloomberg’s remarks earlier this week, and pressure from New York City business leaders, unleashed a chorus of Democratic opposition, including from New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer. On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate intelligence committee, released a letter to President Barack Obama that was cc’d to Holder urging the administration to abandon the Manhattan trial, The Washington Independent reported.
Administration officials said they remain committed to pursuing Mohammed and the other four defendants in federal court.
The search is now on for alternative locations. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, New York City’s No. 2 elected official, suggested the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or Stewart Air National Guard Base in New Windsor, N.Y., the Wall Street Journal reported.
“Clearly we are the heart of the matter. This is where the most important crime occurred and this is the location the world associates with that day,” de Blasio said, according to the Journal. “The mistake was to put it a little too literally at the immediate scene of the crime.”
The Democratic officials’ opposition turned the tide in a manner that conservatives led by former Vice President Dick Cheney — who objected to trying the accused terrorists in federal court rather than before military commissions — could not.
Now, liberal advocacy groups that support civilian trials for terror suspects are bracing for a fight they thought they’d already won. Although the recent arguments for trying Mohammed and his alleged confederates elsewhere — security concerns, cost and inconvenience — are not the same objections originally registered by Republicans, they seem to play into the GOP’s hands.
The Constitution Project, a legal issues think tank, put out a news release on Friday that clearly anticipates a new round of attacks on civilian trials. Here’s an excerpt:
The Constitution Project applauds the Obama administration for standing firm in its commitment to conduct the previously-announced September 11th trials in federal court. In recent days, there has been extensive media buzz about the planned trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in federal court in the Southern District of New York, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city and state officials stating their support for a shift in venue for the trials. In asking the Department of Justice to consider moving the trial out of New York City, the administration has correctly focused on where the trials should be held and has not retreated from its decision to rely on our traditional federal courts.
“What needs to remain clear with all the talk of moving the 9/11 trials out of New York City is that the Obama administration correctly remains committed to prosecuting these September 11th defendants in our traditional federal courts,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project. “This is not a discussion of federal courts vs. military commissions. The administration has made its decision in favor of federal courts – a decision that has widespread bipartisan support. The public must know that the current debate is about whichfederal court is the most appropriate location for these trials.”
Joe Palazzolo and Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
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The Justice Department is now “scrambling” to assess sites outside Manhattan for a civilian trial of accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged al-Qaeda terrorists, the New York Times reported late Thursday night, in an update to a previous version of the article that said a “chorus” of opposition had arisen.
The updated New York Times story suggested the administration’s response to the trial location issue was evolving quickly on Thursday, and that the Justice Department may have been caught off guard by the strength of the opposition to a Manhattan trial.
Earlier Thursday evening, the New York Daily News reported that the White House had “ordered” the Justice Department to evaluate other locations for a trial, while Fox News reported that the White House “has begun discussing alternate locations with the Justice Department.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s opposition to trying five alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in federal court in Manhattan has ballooned into a major political problem for the Obama administration. It lent momentum to moving the trial out of the city.
According to the New York Times, “the apparent collapse of what had seemed since November to be a settled decision to hold the trial in lower Manhattan” became clear when New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, said Thursday he was encouraging the Obama administration “to find suitable alternatives.” New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, added she was “open to alternative locations,” the newspaper said. And New York’s Democratic governor, David Patterson, reiterated his opposition to the trial location.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported Thursday night that the White House had “ordered” the Justice Department to evaluate other locations for a trial, though it cited no source for the information. Fox News reported that the White House “has begun discussing alternate locations with the Justice Department.”
Department spokesman Dean Boyd told The New York Times that no decision has been reached on moving the trial.
The growing uproar over the trials is a political setback for Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his decision in November to try the accused 9/11 plotters in New York, including the self-confessed 9/11 “mastermind,” Mohammed. The alleged terrorists had been held at the military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the administration has been trying to shutter.
Holder has also come under criticism by conservatives for the decision to charge alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab criminally rather than hold him as a military detainee for questioning by intelligence experts. Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) decried that decision Wednesday evening in giving the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Opposition to a civilian trial for KSM, as Mohammed is known in government circles, cropped up immediately after Holder announced his decision in November. Within hours, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under George W. Bush, slammed the decision in a speech before a meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other conservatives piled on, arguing that military tribunals are a more proper setting to weigh charges against the alleged 9/11 plotters.
But what brought the controversy to a boil were remarks on Wednesday by Bloomberg, who had previously supported the trial in federal court, blocks in lower Manhattan from the site where the World Trade Center towers were brought down in 2001 after al-Qaeda operative crashed hijacked commercial airliners into the buildings.
Bloomberg, a Republican, objected to the security costs, estimated to be $200 million a year for a Manhattan trial. “It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn’t cost a billion dollars, which using downtown will,” he told reporters Wednesday, according to The New York Times. On Thursday Bloomberg stepped back a little from his earlier comments. “[W]ould I prefer that they did it elsewhere? Yes, but if we are called on, we will do what we’re supposed to do,” he said, according to the Times.
According to the Daily News, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly catalyzed opposition among Manhattan business leaders, who then leaned on Bloomberg to reverse his position. Kelley gave a speech arguing the trial would be too disruptive and costly at a Jan. 13 policy charity event, the tabloid reported.
“What turned this around was when Ray made a presentation to the Police Foundation,” the Daily New quoted an unnamed source. “Everyone went from thinking, ‘Justice will be served’ to thinking ‘We are screwed.’”
In Congress, New York Republican Rep. Peter King (R) introduced a bill Wednesday to cut off financing for civilian trials of accused 9/11 terrorists, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) said he would introduce companion legislation in the Senate next week.
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A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and life prison term of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. court in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, reports The Washington Post:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected an effort by Moussaoui’s lawyers to send the case back to federal court in Alexandria, where he pleaded guilty in 2005 to an al-Qaeda conspiracy to crash planes into U.S. buildings that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. After a two-month sentencing trial in Alexandria, Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison.
Attorneys for Moussaoui had told the Richmond-based court that he should be retried or resentenced because he was deprived of his constitutional rights. The Justice Department argued that the proceedings were fair.
The win for DOJ comes on the heals of a high-profile sharp rebuke of the department’s handling of a case against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused in a politically charged 2007 shooting incident in Iraq and conservative criticism of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute self-described Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected terrorists in federal court.
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Attorney General Eric Holder today met with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and other officials to discuss the upcoming trial of alleged Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, ABC News reports.
Holder’s decision to prosecute the man known as KSM in U.S. federal court has been a source of controversy, with lawmakers, some former Attorneys General and families of victims of the terrorist attack opposing the decision.
Although details of the meeting were not reported by ABC News, it did report that meeting attendees — including representatives of the New York City Police Department, FBI, U.S. marshals and intelligence agencies — likely discussed a detailed security package for the next three years.
Among the security issues of concern are how to secure and release classified information; how to remove the torture element from the case and how to accommodate the large attendance at the trial, ABC News reports. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Tuesday said that security for the duration of the trial will cost significantly more than the $75 million Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. mentioned during a Senate hearing last month, ABC News reports.
A federal grand jury has begun to hear evidence in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist trials scheduled to take place in Manhattan, but when KSM and his fellow defendants will arrive in New York from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is unclear, ABC News reports. Before the suspects can be moved from Guantanamo Bay, the Justice Department must give Congress 45 days notice, which has yet to occur, ABC News reports.
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Less than a mile from where two hijacked planes brought down the twin World Trade Center towers more than eight years ago, killing thousands, hundreds of demonstrators gathered Saturday to protest the Obama administration’s decision to try key terrorism suspects in U.S. federal court.
Rallying outside the Manhattan federal courthouse where the trials will be held, protesters denounced the decision to hold trials for the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and four others in a U.S. courtroom instead of a war tribunal, Reuters reported.
The protesters, consisting of relatives and friends of the Sept. 11 victims, called for the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, according to The Washington Independent.
Among the protesters: former assistant U.S. attorney Andy McCarthy, who successfully prosecuted 12 people for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
“We’re back here because [Holder] thinks it’s a crime and we know it’s a war,” McCarthy said. “You don’t bring your enemies to a courthouse.”
McCarthy, who serves as contributing editor of the conservative National Review and has criticized Obama in the past, told the rain-soaked crowd that the United States should not “wrap our enemies in the Bill of Rights.”
Demonstrators waved flags and signs, and chanted “U.S.A.” Speakers who took the stage said the trials would give terrorists a forum to spew hate. They argued that men who planned the attacks that killed thousands of Americans should not be afforded the same constitutional rights as U.S. citizens.
Actor Brian Dennehy read a letter from the parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by al Qaeda terrorists in 2002. Pearl’s parents wrote that they “refuse to accept the strategy” of Holder’s decision.
Holder has defended the decision to move the trials from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “At the end of the day, it was clear to me that the venue in which we are most likely to obtain justice for the American people is in federal court,” Holder said in a prepared statement last month to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Reuters placed the number of demonstrators at more than 1,000. The Associated Press said it was closer to several hundred.
Mohammed and his associates will be tried at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, although no date has been set.
The 9/11 Never Forget Coalition organized the rally.
See C-Span’s video of the rally here.
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If you’re wondering what went into Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged confederates in federal court, and why he settled on the Southern District of New York, The Washington Post’s Carrie Johnson has some answers.
Top prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., and Manhattan twice made their pitch to Holder in the command center in department headquarters. Holder favored New York for security reasons. According to Johnson:
In the end, the biggest factor that influenced Holder’s decision-making, according to senior Justice Department officials, turned out to be a confidential security study prepared by the U.S. Marshals Service. That agency operates behind the scenes to protect courthouses, judges and witnesses in scores of facilities across the country. The marshals concluded that the Southern District of New York — with its hardened courthouse, secure Metropolitan Correctional Center and underground transportation tunnels through which to bring defendants to and from court each day — was, hands down, the safest option.
The politics were easier, too. In New York, Holder enjoyed the support of New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D), New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, as well as Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). But in Virginia, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) and Sen. James Webb (D) have opposed bringing detainees to U.S. soil.
When the decision was made, Holder called Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, and Preet Bharara, the top prosecutor in the Southern District. MacBride pledged his support without complaint, Johnson reported.
Prosecutors from EDVA will head to New York to present evidence to a grand jury and help try the case. Holder’s national security adviser, Amy Jeffress, will decide the final composition of the trial team.
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The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi has this story about federal and local law enforcers investigating convenience store owners, many of Middle Eastern descent, for possible ties to terrorist orgranizations in the years after 9/11.
The unimaginatively named “Convenience Store Initiative” uncovered no terrorist links in Northern Mississippi. But it morphed into a meth task force, apparently.
Federal authorities and agents of the state’s Bureau of Narcotics and Drug Enforcement Administration have arrested more than 65 people for allegedly selling excessive amounts of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient of meth, among other criminal acts. More than 60 people have been charged since 2006, according to the newspaper.
U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee, in Oxford, Miss., told the Clarion-Ledger the government was “looking to see any links to terrorism, but what we found was criminal conduct.”
People involved in the initiative told the Clarion-Ledger that proceeds from the drug sales were diverted overseas and possibly into the coffers of terrorist organizations. But they also acknowledged the money may have gone to relatives.
The newspaper reported that of the more than 100 people listed as under investigation by federal authorities, “nearly every name appears to be Islamic.” The article said most targets were “from the Middle East, Yemen, India or the like.” But it quoted Marshall Fisher, director of the state bureau, denying that authorities targeted any ethnic group.
“We target drug dealers,” Fisher told the paper. “We don’t care if they’re green Martians.”
Greenlee denied people were targeted for their ethnic background. ”Did we look at it from an improper purpose? No,” he said.
So, how did they collar these drug dealers?
Asked how they determined operators knew they were breaking the law, Fisher replied they relied on undercover officers or informants to talk about purchasing more than a minimum amount — 9 grams over a 30-day period.
“We would target them and go and see if undercover informants could buy,” he said.
The informants and undercover agents tried to make bulk buys of the ingredients for meth in 279 stores. Operators at eight stores agreed to illegal bulk sales, Fisher said.
Maybe it isn’t much of a meth task force, either.
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It took a little while, but we finally got comment from the Motley Rice law firm about whether the Department of Justice required — or merely helpfully suggested — that it destroy copies of classified U.S. intelligence documents about Saudi Arabian finances that were leaked anonymously to the firm. The answer: Yes, the DOJ told the law firm to destroy the documents.
Some quick background: Motley Rice represented 9/11 victims’ family members in a civil lawsuit seeking damages from members of the Saudi royal familyand Saudi businessmen (note: there are no businesswomen in discriminatory Saudi Arabia) for allegedly financing terrorism. The U.S. opposed the lawsuit, arguing it violates the Saudis’ sovereign immunity, and the Saudis have denied the allegations. After lower courts dismissed the lawsuit twice, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal.
This New York Times story last week described some of the incriminating documents the lawyers turned up linking Saudis to terrorist financing. The NYT also described the leaked U.S. intel docs and said ”the Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler took issue with that characterization and issued a statement that read, in part: “Any sensitive material that has been destroyed was destroyed at plaintiffs’ counsel’s option.”
We were dubious that the law firm had the “option” not to destroy its copies of the documents or otherwise fail to hand them over. On Monday, Motley Rice sent us this Dec. 19, 2008 letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The firm blacked out the name of the writer. But it reads:
“[P]lease confirm in writing that you have turned over all originals and all copies of the identified Documents, whether in electronic or paper form, and that any materials derived from the identified Documents, such as attorney notes or drafts, have been destroyed.” (emphasis added).
The letter goes on to say:
“You asked whether the United States would consent to allow Motley Rice to refer to the Documents in a ‘non-substantive’ court filing, or whether the United States would provide redacted or otherwise unclassified version of the Documents that have been confirmed to be classified … [W]e cannot consent to Motley Rice’s possession or use of the Documents in any form or manner.”
There you have it. The U.S. is in possession of documents that — judging from the law firm’s desire to use the material in its lawsuit — one can reasonably conclude support a link between members of the Saudi royal family and terrorist front groups. But we knew that, didn’t we? We know that our government knows that the Saudis (allegedly) funded al-Qaeda. Would someone please hurry up and discover a viable alternative energy source to oil?