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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White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel opposed Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in federal court, arguing that it would alienate Republicans who support closing Guantanamo Bay but favor military commissions, according to this story by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
Emmanuel was particularly concerned about losing the support of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a proponent of military commissions who had been key ally on closing the military-run prison and had lent a hand on other matters, including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Mayer writes.
“There was a lot of drama,” an “informed source” told Mayer. “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people.”
The source went on, “Rahm had a good relationship with Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’
A bipartisan group of senators led by Graham unveiled legislation earlier this week that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged coconspirators in federal court.
The White House, however, continues to support civilian trials, and Holder said he will press forward with them, though his options are limited by a growing NIMBY mentality.
Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew his support for holding the trials in city, dealing the plan a fatal blow. Officials in Northern Virginia, where al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui was prosecuted, have been outspoken in their opposition to hosting another terrorism trial.
The New Yorker story also documents Holder’s reaction to surging criticism of his decision to leverage the criminal justice system against the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane.
“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case” since 9/11, he told Mayer. “There’s a desire to ignore the facts to try to score political points. It’s a little shocking.”
Earlier this week, Holder sent a pointed letter to Republican senators in which he accepted responsibility for the handling of the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Holder noted that alleged terrorists apprehended in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, have been detained under federal criminal law. He emphasized that “no agency supported the use of law of war detention” in high-level meetings immediately after Abdulmutallab’s arrest.
The letter was the strongest push-back yet from the Justice Department. Holder’s role was already known, as were his arguments supporting his decisions, but the Attorney General suffered weeks of hammering by Republicans before speaking up. (Several of his supporters praised the move but told Main Justice they wish he would have acted sooner.)
The New Yorker story is full of other great details, a few of which we’ve highlighted below.
Holder on toughness:
Some of Holder’s friends, who call him Mr. Nice Guy, wonder if he is as tough as some of these predecessors. “Attorneys General should be feared,” one legal observer told me. “They have incredible power. Holder makes correct decisions on the law, but he’s not aggressive.” Holder bristles at such characterizations. His Secret Service code name is Fidelity, but he joked, “I’d like something like The Hammer.”
Late last month, at home, in Northwest Washington, Holder addressed those who have suggested that he and Obama are too weak to take on terrorism. “This macho bravado—that’s the kind of thing that leads you into wars that should not be fought, that history is not kind to,” he said. “The quest for justice, despite what your contemporaries might think, that’s toughness. The ability to subject yourself to the kind of criticism I’m getting now, for something I think is right? That’s tough.” He paused, and added, “This is something that can get a rise out of me, the notion that somehow Eric Holder and Barack Obama, this Administration, is not tough. We have the welfare of the American people in our minds all the time. We’ll fight our enemies, and we’ll do that which is necessary, and we won’t turn our backs on the values and traditions that have made this country great. That is what is tough.”
The Holder Effect:
As Eric Fehrnstrom, [Scott] Brown’s political consultant, put it to me recently, the “most potent political issue” in the [U.S. Senate] race was voter opposition to the Justice Department’s decision to extend customary legal protections to suspected terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect who on Christmas Day attempted to detonate a bomb on a Northwest Airlines passenger plane bound for Detroit.
Holder’s unpopular positions on terrorism issues have frustrated Obama’s advisers. The lawyer close to the Administration said, “The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way [former Attorney General Janet] Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”
Taking on the Cheney Clan:
Holder tried to address his critics with lawyerly detachment. Dick Cheney had equated Holder’s approach to handling terrorism with giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—the legal definition of treason. Holder said of Cheney, “On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice.” He added that he had seen documents making clear that Cheney’s office was the driving force behind the Bush Administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, especially those sanctioning brutal interrogations. He said of Cheney, “I think he’s worried about what history’s judgment will be of the role that he played in making decisions about everything from black sites to enhanced interrogation techniques.” Holder said that he doesn’t know Elizabeth Cheney, but noted, with a laugh, “She’s clearly her father’s daughter.”
Taking on Rudy Giuliani:
Holder told me that he was “distressed” that people “who know better” were claiming that the courts were not up to the job of trying terrorists. He added that he found it “exceedingly strange” to hear this argument from Giuliani, who had been a zealous prosecutor. “If Giuliani was still the U.S. Attorney in New York, my guess is that, by now, I would already have gotten ten phone calls from him telling me why these cases needed to be tried not only in civilian court but at Foley Square,” Holder said.
Walk With Me:
On January 5th, Obama held a national-security meeting in the White House Situation Room to review how the Administration had failed to detect and prevent the Christmas Day plot. Afterward, Holder said, Obama asked him to walk back to the Oval Office with him. “We talk about these matters,” Holder said. “The decisions are, relatively, mine. I take responsibility for them. But these are things where he is kept in the loop, and the direction he gives obviously has to be factored into any decision I make.” Holder declined to reveal details of their recent discussion but said, “We are on the same page.” He added, “He recognizes that being Attorney General at this time is not the easiest job in the world.”
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The chairman and ranking Republican the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee asked Attorney General Eric Holder today to remove the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber from federal custody and treat him as a military prisoner.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound flight, is being held by federal authorities as a civilian. Panel Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee’s ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other conservative senators say the opportunity to gain valuable intelligence now may be lost, since Abdulmutallab is being treated as a criminal suspect with rights against self-incrimination.
“Though the president has said repeatedly that we are at war, it does not appear to us that the president’s words are reflected in the actions of some in the Executive Branch, including some at the Department of Justice, responsible for fighting that war,” Lieberman and Collins said in a joint letter to Holder and John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. “The unilateral decision by the Department of Justice to treat Abdulmutallab — a belligerent fighting for and trained by an al-Qaeda franchised organization — as a criminal rather than a [unprivileged enemy belligerent] and to forgo information that may have been extremely helpful to winning this war demonstrates that very point.”
Here is the full letter.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) demanded to know who decided to let FBI agents read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and treat him as a civilian. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Thursday he believes Holder was responsible for the decision.
DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller defended the Obama administration’s handling of Abdulmutallab. “Those who now argue that a different action should have been taken in this case were notably silent when dozens of terrorist were successfully prosecuted in federal court by the previous administration,” Miller said in the statement, citing the prosecutions of al-Qaeda operatives Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. Read Miller’s full statement here.
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Statement of Matthew Miller, Director, Office of Public Affairs, on Interrogation and Prosecution of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
Since September 11, 2001, every terrorism suspect apprehended in the United States by either the Bush administration or the Obama administration has been initially arrested, held or charged under federal criminal law. Al Qaeda terrorists such as Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui and others have all been prosecuted in federal court, and the arrest and charging of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was handled no differently. Those who now argue that a different action should have been taken in this case were notably silent when dozens of terrorists were successfully prosecuted in federal court by the previous administration.
In the hours immediately after Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate an explosive device on board a Northwest Airlines flight, FBI agents who responded to the scene interrogated him and obtained intelligence that has already proved useful in the fight against Al Qaeda. It was only later that day, after the interrogation had already yielded intelligence, that he was read his Miranda rights. After the Department informed the President’s national security team about its planned course of action, Abdulmutallab was charged in criminal court.
Trying Abdulmutallab in federal court does not prevent us from obtaining additional intelligence from him. He has already provided intelligence, and we will continue to work to gather intelligence from him, as the Department has done repeatedly in past cases. Most recently, David Headley, who has been indicted in Chicago for helping plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks, has given us information of enormous intelligence value. Furthermore, neither detaining Abdulmutallab under the laws of war or referring him for prosecution in military commissions would force him to divulge intelligence or necessarily prevent him from obtaining an attorney.
The Department of Justice, working with the intelligence community and the President’s national security team, is committed to using every tool available to defeat terrorists and keep the American people safe. It will always be a top priority in these cases to obtain intelligence that can be used in the fight against Al Qaeda around the world. We will be pragmatic, not ideological, in that fight, and we will let results, not rhetoric, guide our actions.
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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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A Southern District of New York terrorism prosecutor will likely have another opportunity to handle a 9/11-era case, The New York Times reported today.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin is expected to head the Justice Department team that will prosecute self-identified 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known in law enforcement circles as KSM, and four other suspected terrorists when they leave Guantanamo Bay for a trial in Manhattan, according to the newspaper.
Raskin previously assisted in the successful prosecution of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria, Va. Moussaoui was convicted of a 9/11-related conspiracy to crash airplanes into buildings.
Eastern District of Virginia Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis will also work on the KSM case, according to The Times. Davis aided in the successful prosecution of John Walker Lindh, an American who was captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Justice Department has not announced who will lead the case against KSM and the four other suspected terrorists. But Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia will handle the case.
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys and their offices declined to comment to The Times.
Raskin and Davis have recently stepped down from key leadership posts in their office to focus their attention on the case, the newspaper said. The SDNY prosecutor led his office’s terrorism unit. Davis headed his office’s criminal division.
“They’ve each got a very strong compass and a very even keel,” former Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley, who led the government’s 9/11 probe and has worked both of the prosecutors, told The Times.
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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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As the Obama administration figures out where it can place Guantanamo Bay detainees before the military brig closes next year, there is one place they might have to scratch from their list of viable options: the supermax prison in Florence, Colo.
The facility — which already holds nearly three dozen terrorists, some with ties to al-Qaeda like September 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui — doesn’t have enough beds, The Denver Post reported today. There is only one bed open, U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Tracy Billingsley told The Post.
The jail would have to transfer some of its prisoners from the prison or increase its capacity in order to accommodate the detainees, which would mean hiring more staff, according to The Post.
“There’s a whole contingent of issues that have to be well thought out before we ever agreed to bring inmates of that caliber into our system,” said Bryan Lowry, president of the National Council of Prison Locals, which represents federal correctional officers, told The Post. “These inmates that are in there now are some of the most dangerous inmates in the nation. I don’t know how you move them out just to move inmates from Guantanamo in.”
We previously reported that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) supported moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the Colorado facility.
Florence Town Manager Tom Piltingsrud told The Post that locals probably wouldn’t mind the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the prison. But he added that his town’s residents are prepared if there are any problems with the suspected terrorists.
“Most of us own guns,” he told The Post.
If Colorado doesn’t work out, some government officials are open to accepting detainees in their cities. We previously reported that Hardin, Mont. wouldn’t have a problem with hosting the detainees. Same goes for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who would support housing the detainees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), who would accept Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Alexandria, Va.