Still no trial date, venue for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and terror cohortsBy James Gordon Meek
August 29, 2010
WASHINGTON - Almost a year after announcing five Sept. 11 plotters would be tried in lower Manhattan for killing 2,973 people, the White House is no closer to bringing them to justice.
Team Obama hasn't found a single community in America willing to host the trial of the most notorious terrorists in history, the Daily News has learned.
Republicans in Congress have also stymied the administration's attempt to buy an unused prison in Thomson, Ill., to relocate the 180 remaining detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The issue is tied to the 9/11 trial because those five defendants also are held at the terror camp in Cuba.
With President Obama fighting to keep the House in the fall elections, there is zero political incentive for lawmakers or the White House to resolve the impasse, which the GOP has used as an argument to keep Gitmo open.
"It's obvious they're waiting until after the elections," said Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.), top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. By delaying it, "they're politicizing it," King said.
"The Obama administration is guilty of criminal negligence. They've mishandled it from the start," King charged.
Attorney General Eric Holder's wanted to prosecute Al Qaeda's self-proclaimed "military commander" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 9/11 plot facilitator Ramzi Binalshibh and three other goons in the city they struck.
But the city's business, law enforcement and political leaders said the trial - anticipated to last for months or years - would cripple the economy in the business district surrounding the federal courthouse at Foley Square.
An Obama administration official involved in deliberations over what to do with KSM and his cohorts admitted the White House has failed to settle the issue.
"We are continuing to work to ensure that the 9/11 detainees are tried as expeditiously as possible," the official told The News. "Our review process is determining what possible venues may be available, and communities willing, to hold a trial."
The defendants could wind up being tried in a military commission courtroom in Illinois or even back at Gitmo.
Officials also have eyed a courthouse in Newport News, Va., a conservative, pro-military community, as well as the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base, federal sources have said.
If KSM and his henchmen are tried in the federal system, the case must be heard in a district where the killings took place: New York, Pennsylvania or Virginia.
But if Holder returns them to a military court instead of the civil trial he had insisted on, they can be prosecuted almost anywhere.
The disadvantage is that under military proceeding rules, if they plead guilty, it may be impossible to execute them. In a civilian trial, the death penalty remains clearly available, guilty plea or not.
And such a double flip-flop would leave Obama with egg on his face - though no more than when his own deadline to close Gitmo within a year came and went without deeply damaging the President's credibility.
"The [political] price he paid is very little," a Democratic source noted.