9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be tried at Gitmo, not New York CityBy Richard Sisk, Adam Lisberg and Corky Siemaszko
April 4, 2011
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, will be tried at Guantanamo Bay - not blocks away from the scene of his crime.
In a reversal of what had been one of the Obama administration's top priorities, a testy Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that Mohammed and four accomplices will be tried by a military tribunal - not a civilian court in Foley Square.
"I grew up in New York City," said Holder, who is from Queens. "It is still my view that this case could have been tried in Manhattan."
But Congress has imposed "unwise and unwarranted restrictions" that blocked them from bringing any Gitmo detainees to trial in the U.S., Holder said.
"We simply cannot allow a trial to be delayed any longer," he said.
Asked about his congressional critics, Holder snapped, "Do I know better than them? Yes."
President Obama campaigned on the promise to close Guantanamo Bay. Asked whether this decision means that promise might not be kept, Holder answered, "It is still our intention to close Guantanamo."
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called it "the final nail in the coffin of that wrong-headed idea."
"I have always said that the perpetrators of this horrible crime should get the ultimate penalty, and I believe this proposal by the administration can make that happen," he said.
Rep. Pete King (R-Nassau) called the move "a vindication of President Bush's detention policies by the Obama administration."
"As I have been saying since day one, these terror trials belong in a military commission at Guantanamo," he said. "I am absolutely shocked that it took Attorney General Holder 507 days to come to this realization."
Mayor Bloomberg, who didn't stake out a position two years ago when Holder first announced that Mohammed and the four other Gitmo goons would be tried here, said he "always" favored trying the mastermind in a military court.
"And while we would have provided the security if we had to here in New York City, you know, being spared the expense is good for us," he said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly echoed the mayor. "It would have cost a lot of money," he said.
New York's junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand did not weigh in on whether Mohammad should be tried in New York. But she said "trying terrorists in federal courts is the right approach for our security and is consistent with our rule of law."
"Upholding the rule of law is one of the strongest tools we have against terrorist propaganda," she said.
Last month, Obama signed a shift in policy by lifting the ban on military trials he imposed two years ago.
But Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to using the federal courts for terror cases, leaving trials in places like lower Manhattan a theoretical possibility.
In the case of Mohammed and four other plotters - Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Waleed Bin Attash - that's a theory no more.
Word that Mohammed might be tried in New York ignited a firestorm of criticism from many elected officials and by relatives of the 3,000 or so people killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Local residents said the rings of heavy security would make getting in and out of Downtown a nightmare for the duration of Mohammed's trial.
Prominent Republicans like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani said terrorists had no business being tried in civil courts.