President Obama will help select the location of the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and insert himself into the process that has faced major political setbacks, The Washington Post reports.
Administration officials acknowledged that Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama advisers were not able to build support for the trail in New York City. Meanwhile, Holder acknowledged in an interview with The Post that the trial may be switched to a military commission.
“At the end of the day, wherever this case is tried, in whatever forum, what we have to do is ensure is that it’s done as transparently as possible and with adherence to all the rules,” Holder said. “If we do that, I’m not sure the location or even the forum is as important as what the world sees is proceeding.”
That position is a major shift from where he stood previously, but reflects the political reality of holding the trial in a city against the will of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several Republican and Democratic senators who have signaled support for a bill which would bar the Justice Department from funding the trail in civilian court.
In November when he announced the decision, 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. “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.”
The decision to try Mohammed was Holder’s alone, officials said, and was not influenced by politics.
“Their building represents what they do — justice. It’s rightly not staffed with people who have to worry about congressional relations or federal funding,” one White House official told The Washington Post.
Reflecting on his first year, Holder told The Post: “What I’ve tried to do is reestablish the department in the way that it has always been seen at its best, as an agency that is independent, given the unique responsibilities that it has,” he said. “But to be truly effective in the national security sphere, you’ve got to involve partners outside this building. To make decisions the AG has to make, you have to involve the commander in chief and these other people. I’m part of the national security team in a way that I’m not involved in the environmental resources team, the civil rights team.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Holder again hit back at critics of trying terrorism suspects in civilian court, saying fear and partisanship drove some of the objections to the administration’s decisions.
“I think a substantial number of people who have criticized the decisions I have made have done so on a political basis for partisan motives and have used fear in a way to support their arguments,” he said. “And it’s a difficult thing to overcome fear with facts, to overcome campaign slogans with explanations of complex policy decisions. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult, and it’s an effort that I need to be more engaged in.”
The White House and the Justice Department have been more visible in countering the Republican attacks in recent weeks after seeming to be caught off guard by the political storm over the NYC trials.
The New York Times article pointed out that civilian trials have a much better track record than military commissions:
John Walker Lindh and David Hicks were both young Muslim converts who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and were captured there in 2001 by American troops. But then their cases diverged — in ways that might surprise anyone following the fierce political debate over how the Obama administration should treat terrorism suspects.
Bush administration officials decided to charge Mr. Lindh, an American, in the civilian criminal justice system. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and will not get out until at least 2019.
Mr. Hicks, an Australian, was treated as an enemy combatant — the approach now pressed by President Obama’s Republican critics. He went before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and got a seven-year sentence with all but nine months suspended. He is already free.
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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 bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled legislation today that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged coconspirators in a federal court.
And Graham, flanked by his bill co-sponsors, told reporters on Capitol Hill that he that he isn’t playing politics over closing the Guantánamo Bay military prison. That was in response to President Obama’s complaint Monday on You Tube that “pretty rank politics” were slowing down his plan to relocate or prosecute about 200 terrorism suspects at the U.S. military base in Cuba.
Graham was flanked by seven co-sponsors of his measure, Jim Webb (D-Va.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) John McCain (R-Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that KSM and his alleged accomplices would be tried in civilian court in New York, instead of a military tribunal. Now, the DOJ is “scrambling” to find other locations for the civilian trial after sharp criticism about security and cost from key politicians, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“This whole process makes no sense,” Graham said. “It’s not about ‘rank politics’.”
One after another the bill co-sponsors came up to the microphone to denounce civilian trials for terrorism suspects, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airplane flight.
Webb said holding non-military trials for terrorism suspects could “benefit the international terrorist movement.” Lieberman, who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the trials “justice according to ‘Alice in Wonderland’.” Sessions, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said they are “a big mistake.”
“I think the president would do himself a great favor if he would overrule and say we’re not going to try these people here [in this country],” said Hatch, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee.
Graham told reporters that he doesn’t expect his bill to have a problem passing the Senate after the recent discussions concerning KSM and Abdulmutallab. The Senate defeated a similar proposal from Graham last November, tabling it on a 54-45 vote. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced a bill in the House last month that would prevent terrorism suspects from receiving civilian trials.
The fiscal 2011 Justice Department budget unveiled on Monday requests that Congress allocate $73 million for transferring, prosecuting and incarcerating Guantánamo Bay detainees.
“Yesterday, the president introduced his budget and he said that anybody who had a good idea on how to get some savings in the budget let us know,” Barrasso said. “Well we all want to let the president know that there is a lot of savings to be had by not having these trials anywhere in the United States and keeping them in a military court. I think basically the Attorney General got it wrong.”
Videos of a Fox News interview with Chambliss, comments from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) at the press conference and a Fox News interview with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) about the House legislation are embedded below.
This post has been corrected from an earlier version.
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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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The Obama administration is considering holding a trial in Washington, D.C., for alleged terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, the Guantánamo Bay detainee who is suspected of planning the deadly nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002, The Associated Press reported Friday.
According to the AP, “U.S. officials briefed on the plan” said other terrorism trials could be held in Washington and New York City under a proposal being discussed by the administration. The officials said the Obama administration could make a decision in a matter of weeks, though the idea of trying Hambali in D.C. has been floated for months.
In August The Washington Post reported that DOJ officials were considering trying Isamuddin — better known by his nom de guerre, Hambali – in Washington, apparently as a kind of consolation prize for D.C. not being considered to host the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial.
At the time, the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia were vying to prosecute the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, after Attorney General Eric Holder decided Mohammed should be moved out of Guantanamo Bay and tried in federal court. Manhattan won out over the Alexandria, Va.-based Eastern District, helping to secure its reputation as a premier venue for prestigious national security cases.
On Sunday, The Washington Examiner reported that “security experts” said Washington wasn’t equipped to handle Hambali. The Examiner said facilities in Alexandria, Va., where al-Qaeda supporter Zacarias Moussaoui’s was convicted, would be a better fit.
Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t even decided if the Hambali case will be tried in military or civilian court. ”The attorney general has made no decision on forum for this case, let alone on where such a case would be tried if it were sent to federal courts,” said Boyd.
Despite DOJ’s unwillingness to confirm or deny the reports, The Hill reported Friday that Republicans were slamming the potential move. ”Moving terrorist detainees to within a mile of the White House and blocks from the U.S. Capitol for show trials is a mistake,” Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille similarly criticized the prospect of having the trial in his city. ”The city’s opposed to having any terrorist tried in our city,” he said. “It’s not about what we’ll be known as but protecting the quality of life of our residents.”
Hambali was allegedly Osama bin Laden’s point man in Indonesia, facilitating communications between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, the terror group said to be responsible for the Bali nightclub attack that left 202 people dead.
Hambali denied any connection to al-Qaeda at a preliminary military tribunal in 2007. Since his capture in 2003, Hambali was held at a CIA “black site” and the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay.
President Barack Obama’s self-imposed deadline to close Guantánamo Bay is less than a week away, though the president has acknowledged it will not be met.
Closing the detention center has proved to be a difficult task as the administration has been unable to find countries that will take detainees cleared for release. Obama has also had to confront the complicated legal and political issues connected with moving detainees into the U.S. court system.
In August, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Alexandria and Manhattan were “embroiled in intense competition” over the opportunity to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other terrorism suspects connected to the attacks. Holder ultimately chose New York to host the trial, a move that immediately came under fire.
“KSM’s first response when he was captured was ‘I will see New York with my lawyer,’ ” former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Fox News Channel. “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.”
The Justice Department has also faced major hurdles in its efforts to provide security for the trial. Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated the cost of security operations for the trials at more than $200 million.
According to the AP, authorities have already started to review the security measures need to try Hambali and others in federal court in Washington.
Trying detainees like Mohammed and Hambali in civilian courts also presents a host of prosecutorial issues. Some have questioned if evidence obtained through “harsh interrogating techniques,” like water-boarding, would be admissible in court. Critics also fear that such trials would disclose sensitive information that could help terrorists.
While Holder has decided that the U.S courts can handle Mohammed’s trial, and possibly Hambali’s, this may not be the case for all of the nearly 200 detainees still at Guantánamo. Holder is currently going through detainees’ files to determine who can be tried in a U.S. court and who should remain in the military commission system, where the rules of evidence are laxer and defendants have fewer rights.
This report has been updated to reflect that The Washington Post broke the news of Hambali’s possible District of Columbia trial in August.
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have estimated the cost of security operations for the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorism suspects connected to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, at more than $200 million.
In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, released by the office of the mayor on Wednesday, Bloomberg seeks federal reimbursement for the full costs of providing security for the trials, reports The New York Times.
In the letter, the mayor said the cost for security operations would be $216 million for the first year and $206 million per year in subsequent years. Much of the expense — about $200 million each year — would be for personnel, the mayor wrote.
The rest of the money would be directed to equipment-related expenses of $12.5 million in the first year and $2.5 million in any subsequent years.
Although the mayor stressed that the city needed the “federal government to shoulder the significant costs we will incur and ease this burden,” he did not argue that the trials should not be held in New York.
Mr. Bloomberg also sought to cast the cost estimate in a realistic light, comparing it with the $50 million spent on security for the Republican National Convention in 2004.
The letter was also sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Earlier this week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced he would request that the Obama administration agree to cover the costs of the trial by including a separate line in its upcoming fiscal year 2011 budget. His press release is reprinted below:
SCHUMER TO OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: FEDS MUST COVER ENTIRE SECURITY COSTS OF NYC TERROR TRIALS – NEED TO PUT SEPARATE LINE IN THIS YEARS BUDGET NOW TO SECURE FUNDING
Federal Terror Trials Set to Begin As Early As This Year Will Require Massive Security Mobilization – Costs to NYPD Could be in the Hundreds of Millions
Senator to Request Obama Administration Include Separate, Ironclad Line in Upcoming Budget
Without Separate Budget Line, Funding Could Well Come Out of Existing Terror Programs, Would “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer will request that the Obama Administration include a separate line in its upcoming Fiscal Year 2011 budget, now being drawn up and set to be released next month, that devotes federal funding to cover the full costs to the NYPD and other local law enforcement of providing security for the upcoming terror trials. The trials, which could begin as early as this year, will require a massive security mobilization and though the FBI and U.S. Marshal service will be the lead the security effort, the supporting role provided by the NYPD could cost the department and the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The bottom line is these are federal terror cases that will bring to justice, in federal court, the evil men behind the attack on our nation on 9-11. It‘s common sense that the federal government pay for security costs because these trials will place a significant burden on the NYPD and the city to keep lower Manhattan safe and secure.”
Schumer spoke personally with Budget Director Peter Orszag and Attorney General Holder asking that the Administration include a separate line item dedicating funding to cover the full costs of security to the city, the NYPD, and other local law enforcement. Schumer said a separate line will help ensure that no funding has to be diverted away from other key programs the city relies on.
The U.S. marshals will handle security for the courthouse with the FBI and the NYPD charged with protecting the public and the surrounding area. Security will include 24-hour fixed canine posts and a counterassault team, along with the NYPD’s heavily armed Hercules teams to lock down and sweep the area before suspects are moved from the federal lockup to the courtroom.
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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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Attorney General Eric Holder will speak at the NAACP’s centennial celebration this July in New York, CNN reported yesterday.
President Obama, New York Gov. David Paterson, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will also address the convention.