U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, and several accused conspirators will face military — not civilian — trials at Guantanamo Bay, a change in President Obama’s earlier goal of trials in federal courts.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2003, his capture in Pakistan, Prosecutors say he was not only a key figure in the planning of the 9/11 attacks but was also involved in a series of other high-profile incidents of terrorism, including the attempted shoe bomb and the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. Mohammed is among the detainees believed to have been waterboarded by U.S. interrogators.
Holder said he concluded that “the best venue for these trials was federal court,” but that since then “members of Congress have intervened” and imposed restrictions making it impossible.
“They have taken one of the nation’s most tested counterterrorism tools off the table and tied our hands in a way that could have serious ramifications,” he said.
“I have full faith in the military commission system to appropriately handle this case as it proceeds,” Holder said, adding that the Justice Department will provide necessary support to the Department of Defense and that “I believe they can hold fair trials and deliver just verdicts.”
Holder said he believed the case, as it was prepared by prosecutors, could have been tried fairly and successfully in Manhattan. “Sadly, this case has been marked by needless controversy since the beginning but despite all of the arguments and debate it has engendered…[it] should never have been about settling ideological disagreements,” he said.
“It is my sincere hope that through the actions that we take today we will finally be able to deliver the justice that they have so long deserved.”
In November 2009, Holder told the NewsHour that the 9/11 trials will weigh the “crime of the century” and discussed the now-reversed decision to move them to New York: “It was a difficult call, because there were other places where the case could have been held, in the Eastern District of Virginia, potentially in Pennsylvania. And, at the end of the day, it was one that I had to take into a whole variety of things, and using the protocol that we have with the Department of Defense to come up with New York as the appropriate venue.”