Although Attorney General Eric Holder has reconsidered his decision to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, some continue to voice support for the location, The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
In November, Holder announced that KSM, the self-described “mastermind” of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be tried in the Southern District of New York. The office is headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Holder quickly came under fire for the decision and in February decided to move the trial out of SDNY.
One of the locations under consideration from the start was the Eastern District of Virginia, which hosted the spring 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The Alexandria, Va.,-based district is the only place to date that has held a Sept. 11, 2001-related trial. The LA Times reports that as Justice Department officials, aided by Holder and President Barack Obama, continue to look for a trial location, they remain steadfast that the trial should be conducted where one of the attacks occurred, meaning New York City, Northern Virginia or western Pennsylvania.
However, those outside the DOJ remain divided on where the trial should take place.
Ron Kuby, a New York City criminal defense lawyer who has represented terrorism defendants for three decades said, KSM “has said repeatedly and publicly, ‘I did it. Kill me.’ And the government has said repeatedly and publicly, ‘He did it. We want to kill him.’” He added, “It sounds like a plan. Not a lot can go wrong.”
However, Larry Homenick and Tina Rowe — the two top U.S. marshals who coordinated security in Denver for the 1997 trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — said the world has dramatically changed in the past decade. When McVeigh was tried, the concern was that anti-government militias might create trouble. Now, the concerns include suicide bombers and airplane attacks, the U.S. marshals told The LA Times.
Both said the trial should not take place in the crowded borough of Manhattan. “That case in New York would be like the McVeigh trial on steroids,” Homenick told The LA Times.
Another concern is that having New York host the trial would make the city a target for another attack. But Bernard V. Kleinman, a lawyer who represented Ramzi Ahmed Yousef in the 1993 World Trade Center attack disagrees. “New York has been a target for years,” he told The LA Times. Kleinman added that KSM and his co-defendants might plead guilty, which would mean short sentencing hearings. He also told The LA Times, ” It’s important they hold the trial right there” because of what happened there.
Defense attorney James J. Brosnahan — who represented John Walker Lindh who was tried in Alexandria, Va., for fighting with the Taliban — told The LA Times neither he nor his client felt they were in any danger. “Courts today are built to deal with all kinds of problems.”
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A former U.S. District Court judge wrote an op-ed piece in Friday’s Washington Post calling for the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed to be moved to Washington, D.C.
Thomas Penfield Jackson, who for 22 years served as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before joining Jackson & Campbell, P.C. in 2004, argues that KSM’s trial should be held in Washington, D.C., because “KSM’s crimes were committed against the entire nation, and it is fitting that the nation’s capital should host his trial.” In addition, the federal government will bear the brunt of the cost of the “expensive” trial, not the city in which the trial is held, Jackson writes.
One cause for concern — whether the trial is held in New York City, as Attorney General Eric Holder announced last November, or in Washington, D.C. – is that “the trial would once again make New York an enticing target for a terrorist attack, but New York is always an appealing target for attack.” He adds, “For that matter, so is Washington.”
Jackson continues that Holder “should reject the suggestion that [KSM] be tried by a military commission at Guantánamo Bay or anywhere else. His crimes were civil, not military.” He notes that KSM “owed no allegiance to any flag, nor did he wear the uniform of any country” and he “answered to no code of military honor or of the law of war.” Jackson writes, “A public trial in a civilian federal criminal court would demonstrate to the world, once again, that the United States, applying its well-respected standards for fairness, can convict terrorists as the common criminals they are.”
The retired judge writes that he is “sure my former colleagues on the court would not appreciate the extra work the KSM trial would require, but they have all become intimately familiar in recent years with the problems of the administration of justice in the age of terrorism.” In addition, “most of them have tried high-profile, protracted and complex criminal cases, some of them capital cases,” Jackson writes.
While the Justice Department “has been rumored to be concerned with an alleged reluctance of D.C. juries to impose the death penalty … no prosecution should ever be undertaken for the primary purpose of putting the defendant to death. The goal is a fair trial,” according to Jackson.
However, “There is virtually no possibility of an acquittal or even a hung jury.” He adds, “Obtain the conviction, and the penalty will take care of itself. (In KSM’s case, it could never be less than life in a maximum-security prison without parole.)”
Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said this afternoon that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder want to give terrorists rights they don’t deserve. She spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and then introduced her father, who made a surprise appearance.
The younger Cheney runs Keep America Safe, a political action group that supports the continuation of the anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration. She slammed the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court and to read Miranda rights to the for alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber.
“If you’ll notice, the White House likes to make [Guantánamo] announcements late at night when there are other things going on,” Liz Cheney said.
“That’s not change we can believe in, that’s not change the American people voted for, and it’s time for the American people to stand up and take this country back,” she said Cheney.
“This is not rocket science. My 9-year old daughter Grace asked me, ‘Is President Obama really trying to bring terrorists into the United States?’ I said ‘yes, unfortunately, he is’ and she said, ‘man, use your brain, dude, that’s totally stupid,’ ” Cheney told her conservative audience.
“President Obama and Attorney General Holder don’t get it, and it’s time for Congress to act,” she said. “A wise man wouldn’t fret over whether a terrorist was read his Miranda rights.”
In his remarks, Dick Cheney said he believed Obama would be a one-term president. He did not touch specifically on Justice Department-related issues.
Videos of the speech are available below.
Ari Shapiro, the award-winning correspondent for National Public Radio who has covered the Department of Justice for five years, is moving up the media food chain. He’ll begin covering the White House in the coming weeks, focusing on national security and legal issues.
Since he began covering the Justice Department in 2005, Shapiro has broken several major DOJ stories in addition to covering broader legal issues and more recently filling in as host of NPR’s Morning Edition. He was the first NPR reporter to be made a correspondent before age 30, according to his biography on the NPR Web site. He also recently made his on-stage debut at the Hollywood Bowl, singing a song he recorded for the band Pink Martini’s latest album.
Main Justice interviewed Shapiro about his new job on Wednesday morning.
When do you start at the White House?
It’s going to be somewhere in the next few weeks, we don’t have a specific start date yet, partly because NPR is in the process of hiring a new Justice Department correspondent, and they may have me sort of straddle both beats for a little while while they go through that process. But there are two other White House correspondents, and so they have been on the beat for a very long time and do a masterful job at it so there isn’t the most urgent pressing need for me to get over there immediately, but it will be some time in the next few weeks.
What types of stories will you be covering?
Generally the way White House coverage works at NPR is that there is [...] sort of a three-week rotation, so one week you’re in the White House covering the daily breaking news and then two weeks you’re doing sort of more “big picture” stories. The other two White House correspondents are Mara Liasson and Scott Horsley. Mara primarily seems to focus on political issues, Scott has tended to focus on economic issues, and I think that NPR’s thought is that I will focus on national security and legal issues, so I may be reporting on many of the same kinds of things that I have covered at Justice but from the perspective of the White House instead of from DOJ.
As you look back at the stories you’ve covered, what stories are you most proud of and which were the most fun to cover?
Well the most fun is easy — going to Baghdad with Attorney General Michael Mukasey was an amazing experience. Donna Leinwand from USA Today and I went on the trip with him and it was just a whirlwind. By the time we finished our 12-hour stay in Baghdad and landed back in Doha [Qatar], nobody had slept in about three days.
I remember we were leaving the military base in Doha to go to the hotel that we were staying at and the Qatar soldiers would not let the convoy enter the country, would not let the convoy go through the check point to leave the military base and we were stalled there and I kept waiting for Attorney General Mukasey to get out of the SUV and storm up to the guards and say “Do you know who I am?” but he never did.
When we finally showed up at the hotel it must have been two or three in the morning and the Qatari attorney general and his entourage were there waiting to greet Attorney General Mukasey and of course all anybody wanted to do was go to sleep, but there was this reception there. Just the experience of being in the bubble of the Attorney General for 24 hours, and I think I spun out about four stories from that trip, was a great adventure.
In terms of other stories that I’ve done that I think have made a difference, I was proud of the story I did on Leslie Hagan, who was not renewed in her job because of a rumor that she was a lesbian. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about covering Justice was sort of getting out into the county and covering Justice as it relates to specific communities — going to Noxubee County, Miss. and covering the first ever case that alleged a violation of the Voting Rights Act by black elected officials against white voters was a great experience. Just recently going out to Suffolk County, Long Island, and covering a civil rights investigation there into whether local officials there have ignored hate crimes against Latinos in Suffolk County.
It has also been very interesting over the last five years to chart the way the federal government’s approach to terrorism has changed and sort of the way the federal government has figured out how to sort through these very complicated new problems and find the balance between the war model and the law enforcement model, and it’s obviously a debate that is continuing more than ever today. That has been very interesting to chart as court cases have made their way through the system and the Justice Department has changed its approach in response.
Specifically on the national security front, how have you seen that debate about the balance between law enforcement and war manifest itself? Has there been a shift in the new administration?
Just this week there was a New Yorker story in which Brad Berenson, who was in the White House counsel’s staff in the Bush administration, was quoted as saying from his perspective, on the national security front, the glass was 85 percent full, or something to that effect, he said basically things are 85 percent the same as they were during the Bush administration. I don’t know that I would put a specific percentage on it, but I think many people have said before, and I certainly appreciate their point of view, that it is in President Obama’s interest, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest, to portray a greater difference in national security policies between the last administration than in fact there actually is. Certainly, the language used to describe counter-terrorism efforts has changed dramatically. I think that although there have been changes in the policies, those policy changes have not been as dramatic as the language has.
So will you just dive in head first? How do you get a grasp on the broad range of issues the White House beat deals with?
I was just thinking last night about how five years ago when I started this beat, there was so much about the Justice Department that I didn’t know, from the names of officials to acronyms. I can remember doing interviews when I started covering Justice that I would say to the person I was interviewing, ‘Now, most NPR listeners are not familiar with the term habeas corpus, so why don’t you define it for them,’ of course, not knowing myself what habeas corpus meant.
As I start on this White House beat, I think there’s going to be this same kind of learning curve. I was just thinking last night about all the structural things of the White House and learning the names of officials and the things that I’ll have to learn, but I think that’s one of the reasons this is the right choice, having covered Justice for five years, it’s a fantastic experience and I love the beat, but I feel like a good time to try something new.
How do you prepare for your new role? Have you set up your Google Alerts yet?
I actually need to ask for our reference librarian’s help in structuring the right Google Alert, because if I put the Google Alert for Barack Obama, I’m going to get such a tremendous amount of information it’ll be useless. With a Google Alert for Eric Holder, it’s a little bit more digestible, but I’ll have to structure the new ones for the White House beat. But it’s true that I’m going to be relying really heavily upon some of the contacts and sources that I’ve developed over the past five years in starting on this new beat and to a certain extent it’s going to be like drinking from a fire hydrant and I expect that for the first six months to a year, I will be struggling to keep up, and that’s exciting to me.
When I started as a reporter, I felt like there was a long list of mistakes I had to make once in order to make sure that I wouldn’t make them again and then about a year ago when I started filling in as a guest host, there was a whole new list of things that could go wrong, most of which I have now done at least once, and hopefully that means that I will not do them again. So I’m sure that now that I’m starting on a whole new beat at the White House, I’ll have a whole new list of things that could go wrong and mistakes that I might make, and it’s just a matter of hanging in there, forging through them until I’ve sort of exhausted that list and feel comfortable in the routine.
What will you miss most about covering the Justice Department beat?
You know I remember during the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, there were countless hearings into the firings, and at almost every one of those hearings, somebody, whether it was a witness, or a congressman or a senator, would talk about how people who work at the Department of Justice feel a devotion to the Department and a passion for the Department’s mission that other federal government employees don’t feel, and I can’t speak to what other federal government employees do or don’t feel because I’ve never covered another federal department, but I have always been impressed by the way the people at the Department of Justice consider their work to be much more than a job. From national security to civil rights to environment to antitrust, across the board, people at DOJ feel a real devotion to the mission of the Department. John Ashcroft used to say the Department of Justice is the only Department with a value in its name, and there’s really something to that that I will miss.
Do you think there’s a lot more of a political aspect to covering the White House than there is to covering the Justice Department? Obviously at the White House sort of everything is political where at DOJ there’s supposed to be more of a divider line — in just enforcing the law as it’s written, where not everything is thought of politically, sort of what we’re seeing with the handling of the KSM trial.
“Yeah, well one of the major themes of the past five years has been the extent to which politics has or has not improperly affected the decision-making at the Department of Justice. There have been amazing Inspector General reports and hearings about that and I would say that was one of the major themes of the past five years. At the White House, there is a completely different standard as to which politics can influence decision making and that’s going to be a real difference.”
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Appearing on Fox News yesterday, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said that “people who insist on jury trials for all people who are apprehended may simply be compromising national security and our ability to gain intelligence.”
“I think we have to be very careful that we have, as our focal point, national security, and that we don’t allow political correctness or institutional or interest groups, if you will, to dictate that we handle things one way, when we should handle them another,” said Ashcroft.
Ashcroft joined the criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try attempted Christmas day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court.
“We need to take people and treat them as — for what they are, is enemy combatants, and they should be processed in a different way,” said Ashcroft.
“This is not always the case. Each case is to be understood on its specific facts, but we shouldn’t be — the tail shouldn’t wag the dog, interest groups and political correctness. The Constitution should define our behavior. The law should define our behavior. And we should always live within those limits.”
Ashcroft also told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that racial profiles are frequently misleading and that there are other, more effective measures of risk.
CAVUTO: Would you say the better part of valor would be to screen Muslim-looking men?
ASHCROFT: Well, I think we should screen people who are high-risk. And all of criminal law is a matter of using profiles. We have learned, however, that racial profiles are frequently misleading and that there are other things that really provide better indication where the risk is high.
And, obviously, with the so-called underwear bomber, there were things that should have led us to suspect that he would be eligible for the right kind of screening on the right kind of special attention, if it meant a no- fly list. But the warnings from his family, the kind of fare he purchased in — well, I think a one-way fare with cash, and those kind of things, they are items which we have long known to be indicators of high risk.
(Note: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab actually bought a round-trip ticket with cash, and his passenger record indicated a return reservation for January. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, this one-way ticket myth has bounced around the media for weeks.)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) criticized Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected terrorists in federal court on Sean Hannity’s program this weekend
Sessions, who appeared at a ceremonial event with Holder on Friday, called the Attorney General’s decision “unthinkable” on Hannity’s “Terror on Trial” special.
- Guiliani: “And what is the only justification for this? The justification for it is we are going to show the world that we can give a fair trial. Well, the reality is the president and the attorney general, as far as I can tell, have already said he is guilty. And they have already said he should have the death penalty. What kind of trial is that?”
- Mukasey: “KSM’s first response when he was captured I will see New York with my lawyer. He got instead a military commission. Now, of course, he is getting the fate of his dreams, which is a courtroom in New York City.”
- Sessions: “It’s unthinkable to me. And I have not been able to understand it. There is no doubt about it. All the nations of the world provide for these kinds of trials outside their normal system for people who are attacking them, warriors, unlawful combatants, people who are trying to destroy the government of which they are a part.”
View the entire program on YouTube, also embedded below, along with a slideshow of photos from the filming of the episode.
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In a press conference in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and GOP House members joined Republicans who have criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for his decision to hold the trial of confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City.
“The decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City and give him all the benefits and perks reserved for American citizens is a slap in the face of the 9/11 victim’s families, the American people, and the men and women who risk their lives to defend our liberties each and every day,” said Bachmann in a statement released after the news conference.
Bachmann was joined at the news conference yesterday by Andrew McCarthy, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York who prosecuted “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and others involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Bachmann has emerged as a conservative leader in the Tea Party movement, leading a rally against the health care reform bill on Capitol Hill last month. Her controversial statements have made her a regular on the cable news circuit.
“If President Obama admits that we are a nation at war, then we should act like one,” Bachmann said in her statement. “Justice for the 9/11 attackers should be swift and conclusive, something that won’t be done when KSM exploits the abundant appeals and legal loopholes he has been inexplicably awarded as a foreign combatant.”
Other House members in attendance included Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), reports Talking Points Memo.
To recap, here are some of the conservatives who have come out against the trial:
The Republican mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has supported the trial.
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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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Former Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Friday that trials for the Sept. 11, 2001, plotters could endanger the public and give anti-U.S. elements a public stage to voice their rhetoric, according to the Associated Press.
“If your top priority is the liberty and life of American citizens and the security of their lives and liberty, then this decision is less than optimal,” he told reporters at a Kansas fundraiser for Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s campaign for U.S. Senate. ”I believe we are still in a very significant war on terror. The administration doesn’t appear to believe that we are in a war on terror.”
Last Wednesday, Ashcroft said that Holder technically lacks the legal standing to move alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other detainees to federal courts in New York City to stand trial.
“The attorney general doesn’t have the authority to mandate that the secretary of Defense turn somebody over to him and yield jurisdiction so that something that would have been done in a military setting is done in a civilian setting,” Ashcroft told the Chris Stigall show on KCMO radio, according to the Hill.
Notwithstanding Ashcroft’s views, the trials will be held in New York City; Holder made his decision in consultation with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, according to the Justice Department
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Former Attorney General Ed Meese on Wednesday joined in the criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder’s controversial decision to try alleged Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. Meese served as Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988.
In a blog posting on Web site of the Heritage Foundation, where Meese is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, he also criticized the decision to “abandon” the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Here’s Meese’s full blog posting:
“It is clear that foreign terrorists and terrorist groups have committed acts of war against the United States, and that our national security requires that we respond accordingly. This means that President Bush’s prudent actions and the military response which he led should continue as our answer to these attacks.
Congress overwhelmingly reaffirmed their commitment to military commissions in 2006, which have historically been the way that we respond to acts of war. To abandon our two centuries of tradition and to substitute some new civilian procedure as a response to such attacks endangers the security of our country and our national interest.
It was a tragic mistake to decide to abandon the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, which was designed physically and legally to handle these types of cases. It is a further tragic mistake to now bring the detained war combatants into the United States and to employ civilian criminal procedures which were never intended for this type of situation.
The U.S. Constitution protects American citizens and visitors from the moment they are suspected of criminal wrongdoing through a potential trial. These same protections are not, have never, and should not be granted to enemy combatants in war, since it is clear that regardless of the outcome of the trial, these detainees will likely remain in the custody of the United States.”