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Alleged 9/11 Mastermind Among Detainees to Face Trial in N.Y.

November 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The Justice Department on Friday announced plans to try suspected 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees, in federal court. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will face trial in federal court in New York City. That announcement came from the Justice Department today. Four other detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will also be tried in New York.

And five more will face military tribunals.

Ray Suarez has our lead story report.

RAY SUAREZ: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed topped the list today. He has claimed direct credit for organizing the airliner attacks of September 11.

In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder said Mohammed and four co-conspirators will be tried just blocks from where the Twin Towers fell.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. Attorney General: The Justice Department has a long and a successful history of prosecuting terrorists for their crimes against our nation, particularly in New York. Although these cases can often be complex and challenging, federal prosecutors have successfully met these challenges and have convicted a number of terrorists who are now serving lengthy sentences in our prisons.

RAY SUAREZ: In addition to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the four others to be tried in New York are Waleed Bin Attash — he allegedly ran a training camp in Afghanistan where two of the 9/11 hijackers trained. He was arrested in Yemen in 2001 before the attacks.

Ramzi Binalshibh, U.S. officials say he found flight schools for the hijackers and helped them enter the U.S., but failed to get a visa himself. Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, he’s accused of providing money, clothing, and credit cards for the hijackers. And Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, it’s alleged he helped the hijackers reach the United States, then sent them $120,000 for expenses and flight training.

The suspects have been held for as long as five years at secret sites and at Guantanamo, and have been subjected to harsh interrogations. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was reportedly water-boarded 183 times in 2003, before the practice was banned.

But at today’s news conference, Attorney General Holder said he was sure of convictions.

ERIC HOLDER: But the reality is — and I want to be as assuring as I can — that, based on all of my experience, and based on all of the recommendations and the great work and the research that has been done, that I am quite confident that the outcomes in these cases will be successful ones.

RAY SUAREZ: And, in Japan, President Obama said he believes the U.S. federal courts are up to the job.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist on it.

RAY SUAREZ: The idea of bringing the detainees to the U.S. has already run into resistance.

REP. PETER KING, R-N.Y.: This is one of the most disgraceful decisions any president has ever made, to be giving constitutional rights to international terrorists, to be bringing them to Lower Manhattan, within walking distance of ground zero and the federal courthouse, and the police headquarters, Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, putting all this extra burden and making New York even more of a terrorist target than it was before.

RAY SUAREZ: Another group of Guantanamo detainees will not go to federal court. Instead, they will be tried for their alleged crimes before military commissions.

That group includes Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, implicated in the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen; Omar Khadr, captured when he was 15 years old in Afghanistan, after allegedly killing an American soldier; Ahmed Mohammed al Darbi, accused of plotting to blow up a ship off the coast of Yemen; Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, allegedly al-Qaida’s accountant during the 1990s; and Noor Uthman Muhammed, charged with being a weapons inspector and commander at an al-Qaida training camp.

None are implicated in the events of 9/11.

Today’s announcement is a step toward meeting the president’s pledge to close Guantanamo by January. But Attorney General Holder said today he doesn’t think the deadline can be met.

And White House counsel Greg Craig, the man in charge of the effort, announced his resignation today, effective early next year.