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.
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“I have full faith and confidence in the reformed military commission system to appropriately handle this case as it proceeds,” he said.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Guantanamo Bay ten years and counting
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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.
She added: “A verdict in the federal court system, in contrast, would be recognized throughout the world as legitimate.”
Holder's faith in civilian courts
As part of the Justice Department’s referral of the case, prosecutors asked a federal judge on Monday to unseal and dismiss a 10-count, 80-page indictment against Mohammed and four alleged codefendants. The indictment had been returned by a federal grand jury in New York in December 2009.
It charged Mohammed as the mastermind and Al Qaeda’s operational leader of the 9/11 plot. The charges included terror conspiracy, destruction of aircraft, aircraft piracy, and murder of US officers and employees.
The indictment identifies Mohammed and the four other defendants as being involvement in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, destruction of four aircraft, the attack on the Pentagon, and the deaths of 2,976 persons.
Holder said he still believed the best venue for the 9/11 terror trial was a civilian federal courtroom. He said he stood by his earlier decision to conduct the trial in New York City.
In earlier comments Holder had made no secret of his concern about entrusting such a high-profile case to the still largely untested military commission process at Guantánamo.