“After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11 will finally face justice,” Holder said at a news conference. “They will be brought to New York – to New York – to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood.”
Holder indicated that he had personally been reviewing the cases of Mohammed, Walid bin-Atash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al-Hawsawi over the past few weeks and remained confident in the court’s ability to provide a just and fair trial.
Prosecutors will pursue the death penalty. “They must face ultimate justice,” he said.
The five were being prosecuted in U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay detention center. Soon after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, his administration pledged to shutter the closely scrutinized prison camp and has been wrangling with the legal details ever since.
The detainees will not be moved right away, reported the New York Times. Lawmakers will be given 45 days notice before the federal government transfers detainees onto U.S. soil per a law enacted by Congress earlier this year.
Already the Department of Justice is coming under attack by lawmakers worried about a potential national security threat. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, raised concerns that transferring detainees to U.S. soil could make the country a bigger target, according to the Los Angeles Times. He also warned that providing the suspects with an American-style trial “expands their constitutional rights and could shorten their sentence,” he told the Times.
Holder’s announcement comes just days before a deadline determining how the Justice Department would prosecute several Guantanamo Bay detainees awaiting trial, according to NPR. Prosecution of the alleged Sept. 11 organizers started months ago in a Guantanamo military commission, but the Obama administration asked for a delay so that it could decide between keeping them in the military legal system or moving them to civilian courts.
“This is definitely a seismic shift in how we’re approaching the war on al-Qaida,” Glenn Sulmasy, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy law professor who has written a book on national security justice, told the AP. “It’s certainly surprising that the five masterminds, if you will, of the attacks on the United States will be tried in traditional, open federal courts.”
In 2007, it was revealed that Mohammed told interrogators that he was the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In the 26-page partially censored transcript, Mohammed admitted he had sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden to conduct jihad and was “operational director for the organizing, planning, follow-up and execution of the 9/11 operation.”
Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and was held by the CIA at undisclosed foreign locations. The CIA has acknowledged that it interrogated Mohammed while using the controlled drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The Washington Post reports that President Obama declined to comment extensively while speaking to reporters in Japan, but did offer this statement: “I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration will insist on it.”