9/11 detainees to be tried in New York City

In a file photo Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan Saturday March 1, 2003, in this photo obtained by the Associated Press. In his book Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf wrote that Mohammed was behind the July 7, 2005, London subway bombings and plans to attack Heathrow airport with hijacked passenger planes. (AP Photo) ((AP Photo))

November 13, 2009 5:16:28 PM PST
It's the scene of the crime and the Obama administration has decided New York City be the scene of the trial. Those who will stand trial are admitted 911 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad, and four other detainees currently being held at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba.

"They will be brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks away from where the twin towers once stood," Eric Holder said.

That would be the federal courthouse. Holder said he expects prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

"I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 20 years. The alleged 9/11 conspirators will stand trial in our justice system before an impartial jury, under long established rules and procedures," Holder said.

The plan that Holder outlined Friday is a major legal and political test of Obama's overall approach to terrorism. If the case suffers legal setbacks, the administration will face second-guessing from those who never wanted it in a civilian courtroom. And if lawmakers get upset about terrorists being brought to their home regions, they may fight back against other parts of Obama's agenda.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona called bringing Mohammed to New York "an unnecessary risk" that could result in the disclosure of classified information. Kyl maintained the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called "blind sheik" who was tried for a plot against some two-dozen New York City landmarks, caused "valuable information about U.S. intelligence sources and methods" to be revealed to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Congressman Peter King is livid. He says he has been fielding calls all day from 9/11 families. King says he says he sent a letter to Holder's office back in April expressing concerns the security risks of a terror trial for Khalid and company in New York City and never got a response.

The decision outraged family members of some Sept. 11 victims.

"We have a president who doesn't know we're at war," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles Burlingame, was pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She said she was sickened by "the prospect of these barbarians being turned into victims by their attorneys," if the trial winds up focusing on allegations that the suspects were tortured after their capture.

"I don't think these people should get the benefit of being subjected to our system of jurisprudence," said Bruce De Cell, whose son-in-law, Mark Petrocelli, was killed at the World Trade Center. "They are terrorists. I don't think they should be tried in a civilian court."

The New York case may force the court system to confront a host of difficult legal issues surrounding counterterrorism programs begun after the 2001 attacks, including the harsh interrogation techniques once used on some of the suspects while in CIA custody. The most severe method - waterboarding, or simulated drowning - was used on Mohammed 183 times in 2003, before the practice was banned.

The five suspects are headed to New York together because they are all accused of conspiring in the 2001 attacks. The five headed to military commissions face a variety of charges but many of them include attacks specifically against the U.S. military.

In Japan, President Obama only briefly referred to the administration's action.

Leaving his Attorney General to defend the controversial decision, he argued that there have been a number of successful terror trials in Lower Manhattan, including prosecution of those connected to the 1993 attack on the World trade center.

"Although the security issues presented by terrorism cases can never be minimized, our marshals, our court security officers, and our prison officials have extensive experience and training in dealing with dangerous defendants and I am quite sure they can meet the security challenges posed by this case," Obama said.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the federal courts are capable of trying high-profile terrorism.

"By trying them in our federal courts, we demonstrate to the world that the most powerful nation on earth also trusts its judicial system a system respected around the world," Leahy said.