In abrupt reversal, 9/11 suspects to get Guantánamo military tribunals
The Obama administration had wanted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 suspects in a civilian court in New York. It abandoned that plan Monday in favor of military tribunals.
In an abrupt reversal, US Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will not be tried in a civilian federal court in the US, but instead will face justice before a special military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay.Skip to next paragraph
Mr. Holder made the announcement in a press conference in Washington on Monday, the same day the president announced his reelection campaign.
Holder spoke with a tone of resignation, acknowledging that the administration’s hands had been effectively tied by members of Congress opposed to any transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the US.
“Sadly, this case has been marked by needless controversy since the beginning,” Holder said. “The prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators should never have been about settling ideological arguments or scoring political points.”
In November 2009, Holder conducted a similar press conference to announce that Mr. Mohammed and four co-conspirators would be tried in a federal court in New York City. But the Obama administration faced substantial pushback from citizens and leaders in New York who were concerned that a major terror trial might spark a new round of deadly attacks.
Holder said he studied other options, including conducting the trial at a federal prison outside New York City. But new restrictions by Congress made even that proposal a dead letter.
“While we will continue to seek to repeal those restrictions, we cannot allow a trial to be further delayed for the victims of the 9/11 attacks or their families,” he said.
“I have full faith and confidence in the reformed military commission system to appropriately handle this case as it proceeds,” he said.
Praise and criticism
Holder’s switch drew immediate praise from Republicans in Congress.
“This is the right outcome to the long and spirited debate that preceded this decision,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a statement on the Senate floor. “Military commissions at Guantánamo, far from the US mainland, were always the right idea.”
Human rights and civil liberties groups who had earlier praised Holder for his decision to conduct the terror trial in a civilian court in New York City, blasted the attorney general’s reversal as a setback for rule of law.
Some said the decision was “purely political,” driven by the unpopularity among Americans of the Guantánamo detainee issue. Others said it would erode US standing internationally.
“Any trial in the military commission system will carry the stigma of Guantánamo, be subject to challenge and delay, and keep the world focused on how the defendants were treated rather than the crimes they are accused of committing,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch, in a statement.