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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 9/11 trial carries risks

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will be tried in federal court. It's a risky decision by the Obama administration, opening the way for aggressive defense tactics.

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Holder said the administration has not yet decided where the military commissions will be conducted.

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The announcements were made as part of a high-priority effort to make good on President Obama's pledge to close the Guantánamo detention camp by Jan. 22. But that pledge looks increasingly unlikely.

Holder repeated his skepticism that the deadline will be reached. He said the primary delay has been finding countries willing to accept detainees designated for transfer. Estimates are that as many as 90 of the current 215 detainees at Guantánamo have been approved for transfer.

Possibility of acquittal

The attorney general was asked whether he is concerned that Mohammed or other terror suspects might be acquitted.

"I would not have authorized the prosecution of these cases unless I was confident that our outcome would be a successful one," he said. Holder added that he has access to information that has not yet been released publicly that leads him to believe the prosecutions will be successful.

Although the case will be tried in federal court in lower Manhattan, the prosecutors are being drawn from both the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia. Both districts have had experience with high-profile terrorism trials.

It is unclear when Mohammed and the others will be physically transferred to the US from Guantánamo. Federal law requires the administration to give Congress a 45-day notice of any potential transfer. In addition, the case against Mohammed and the others must be presented to a federal grand jury in New York. Holder told the press to expected indictments "relatively soon."

He added: "They will be charged with what we believe they did; that is to mastermind and carry out the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

Prosecutors seek death penalty

Holder said the government will seek the death penalty for all five defendants.

Asked if he believed Mohammed and the others can receive a fair trial in New York City, Holder said a careful examination of each prospective juror by the trial judge would be able to ensure a fair trial.

The attorney general dodged questions about what might happen in the event of an acquittal. He repeatedly answered that he did not expect an acquittal.

But the US government retains another option. The Obama administration has made clear that it intends to continue the Bush administration's policy of indefinitely detaining without charge individuals it deems are too dangerous to be set free.

Under this regime, an acquitted suspect could be moved back into open-ended military detention, legal analysts say.

In addition to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Holder said the four other 9/11 suspects who will stand trial are Walid Muhammed Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi.

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