February 12th, 2010
04:55 PM ET
4 years ago

White House takes larger role in deciding where to try 9/11 mastermind

The White House decision to become more involved represents a setback for Attorney General Eric Holder.
The White House decision to become more involved represents a setback for Attorney General Eric Holder.

Washington (CNN) - The Obama administration Friday acknowledged the White House is taking steps to rescue the Justice Department's troubled effort to find a home for the trial of the accused 9/11 conspirators.

The move represents a setback for Attorney General Eric Holder, who had spearheaded the decision to try self-admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court near the site of the attack on the Twin Towers.

Holder has made an issue of establishing Justice Department independence from interference by political influences.

However, with opposition to the November decision mounting in Congress and in New York City, the White House has stepped in, citing a political dimension that takes the issue beyond the legal considerations that guided Holder.

"Because Congress has become involved in this, because legislation could restrict the venue, and the type of trial, the White House is more involved, yes," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is leading an effort to block funding for a civilian trial in the United States, in favor of placing the defendants before a military commission.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, Holder said he still strongly prefers a civilian trial but appeared to open the door slightly to a military alternative.

"If for whatever reason it ended up as a military commission trial, given the reformed status of those military commissions, I think that we could have a trial that would stand up to the test that I was talking about before in terms of transparency, adherence to the traditions that we have as a nation," Holder said.

Gibbs told reporters Friday the comments do not represent a softening of the administration's position on a military trial, and insisted President Barack Obama has still not ruled out a civilian trial in New York, despite the local opposition.

"I think he (Obama) will have strong equities in this decision and will hear from a lot of different people," Gibbs said. "We're going to take into account security and logistical concerns that those individuals now have. The cost of the trial, obviously, is one thing."

Administration officials said they did not know when a decision would be made on a venue for the trial.

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Doug, Tampa,FL

    To Sadie – "And everybody lived happily ever after".

    February 12, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. Lisa P

    The way to get tough on terrorists is to treat them like the common criminals they are, without the special status given to enemy soldiers in a military court. We should never give them or their cause that kind of legitimacy or respect. Nor do we need to stack the deck or fudge the rules of evidence in order to convict. Allow them the same rights as any other defendant (I don't know where some of you get the idea that the Constitution gives special rights to American citizens - maybe it's time you re-read it given all the kicking it's gotten the last few years) and let the criminal justice system have at 'em. They'll be sorry we did.

    February 12, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  3. Lidija

    "Holder has made an issue of establishing Justice Department independence from interference by political influences."

    That's a laugh line, yes?

    February 12, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  4. Nevada dude

    Wah Wah Wah! that's all I keep hearing from the right AND the left. It's time to just shut up and get this done. If the ATTORNEY GENERAL, who is the utmost authority on these things says it should be done a certain way, then everyone else just shut up and let the man do his job.

    These terrorists are just glorified common criminals. i am not one to romanticize war but even i can see these guys do not deserve the dignity of a military trial. they should be tried same as child rapists and serial killers– and executed as such.

    February 12, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  5. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    I am tired of the republicans being afraid of the terrorists. You right wingnuts are doing a terrible disservice to our country and encouraging those who want to attack us by encouraging them with your fear. Why don't you join Cheney and live your miserable lives in an undisclosed bunker.

    February 12, 2010 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  6. stevegee

    War criminals should be tried by military tribunals. The only reason Holder wants civilian court is so that the liberals can also put Bush and Cheney on trial.

    Once again, this administration is guilty of placing self-interest ahead of the best interest of our country.

    February 12, 2010 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  7. Rick CT

    Why don't they put any effort into rescuing an innocent American out of Italy.

    February 12, 2010 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  8. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Don't forget. . .of the three terrorists convicted in military court, two were free, and one got 5 months. Compare that to those tried in civilian courts who are found guilty and are serving long terms in prison. It would make you want to stop watching Fox lies.

    February 12, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  9. NYC REPUB

    Our great country was attacked on 9/11/2001.......GWB tried and convicted 300+ terrorist in his administration in civilian courts....Three he tried in military courts....of the 3 tried in military tribunals, 2 of them are free today.... the Supreme Court found the cases unconstitutional. Our Laws are close to holy, our Judges, Juries, Officers, Criminal agencies and Courts are next to sacred.
    The mightiest country in the world should be able to cloth this terrorist in american rights so that we can Smack him with good old fashioned American Justice........
    Instead we have let the Politics of Fear take over this debate........In Israel, when they are attacked, they rebuild what was destroyed, and keep moving. They bring the attackers to justice, and continue to live in freedom and bravery.
    I choose Hope and Justice.

    February 12, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  10. Biased

    First of all to :ThinkAgain who parrots the democratic spin line -
    "During the GW Bush Administration, over 300 terrorists were convicted in civilian court. There's absolutely no reason for this precedent to change."
    Know who those 300 are by any chance? No, because some of them are Peta and environmentalists who have been called "terrorists" and lumped in some "terror" category. And by the way the ShoeBomber had to go to civilian trial because military tribunals weren't set up, Gitmo wasn't set up and who by the way plead guilty.
    Obama has to decide once and for all whether the US is at war with these types of terrorists and make a final decision once and for all for ALL of them – there should not be a decision on each individual. And where is the special interrogation force Obama said he was going to set up a while ago that hasn't been set up yet? And in all honesty, Obama is going to have a hard time explaining why he convicted and sentenced KSM to meet his maker before he even gets to anywhere for trial and his spokesman Gibbs doing the same thing while others say if he is found not guilty he will just be picked up and put away again and how he thinks this represents to the world the wonderful US justice system in the President saying he knows what the outcome will be before it happens?

    February 12, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  11. Marc

    To biased – 'And by the way the ShoeBomber had to go to civilian trial because military tribunals weren't set up, Gitmo wasn't set up and who by the way plead guilty.'
    And by the way the military tribunals set by Bush were declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and by the way what's the difference between domestic and foreign terrorism? Terrorists are terrorists plain and simple, they're not 'combatent enemies' or whatever that may give them a military status, they're terrorists and since the 1st Worl War these kind of beings have been dealt with in civilian courts.

    February 12, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  12. Marty, Grand Rapids MI

    Just have the trial already. This is stupid theater. Congress needs to get out of the way of the justice system.

    February 12, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  13. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Try them and fry them right there in the big Apple, isn't that what they deserve.

    February 12, 2010 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  14. johndoe5

    WH should fire this government wasteful spending: Attorney General Eric Holder

    February 12, 2010 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  15. Steve-Illinois

    Has nothing to do with being afraid of these terrorists. What sense does it make to spend $200 million PER YEAR, and add to that the cost of disrupting the city's normal activities, possibly for years, when you can hold the trial, civilian or military, on a military base at hardly no additional expense? This administration is stepping on it's Johnson so often it's unbelievable! When Obama starts appointing people that are actually qualified to make decisions, then, and only then, will they start to make good ones!
    Common sense!!! Not much of that to be found in D.C. these days!

    February 12, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  16. Right Leaning Independent

    Does anyone believe that Obama did not know that Holder was going to announce that the trial would be held in NY?? Holder is going to have to fall on the sword for Obama and I bet Obama will be the one holding it!! You know it is always someone elses fault with Obama...

    February 12, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  17. Dean

    The mayor of New York City and the governor of New York should refuse to provide security or protection for the terrorist during the trial.
    Why spend $100 million dollars when several $1.25 firing squad bullets would do the trick.

    February 12, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  18. Dean

    Marc February 12th, 2010 6:02 pm ET

    To biased – 'And by the way the ShoeBomber had to go to civilian trial because military tribunals weren't set up, Gitmo wasn't set up and who by the way plead guilty.'
    And by the way the military tribunals set by Bush were declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and by the way what's the difference between domestic and foreign terrorism? Terrorists are terrorists plain and simple, they're not 'combatent enemies' or whatever that may give them a military status, they're terrorists and since the 1st Worl War these kind of beings have been dealt with in civilian courts

    What about The trials of leading German officials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the best known of the postwar war crimes trials, took place in Nuremberg, Germany, before judges representing the Allied powers.
    Also..Under the aegis of the IMT, U.S. military tribunals conducted 12 further trials of high-ranking German officials at Nuremberg. These trials are often referred to collectively as the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings.

    February 12, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  19. Gerry NH

    On July 21, 2008 the supreme court ruled that the military tribrunal could start trial of the prisioners in gitmo. Prior to this the civilian court was the only way to try terrorist. So prior to this date there was no choice.

    February 12, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  20. j

    How much taxpayer money is going into "deciding"? Why the heck does it matter where he's tried, so long as he's tried, sentenced, and sent to jail (if he's guilty).

    February 12, 2010 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  21. annie against biased news

    Since holder has worked for a firm that defends terrorist, how about we put holder on trial?

    February 12, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  22. Tom

    Obama and his lawless leftist loons like Holder think that unlawful enemy combatants/terrorists/enemies of the United States are entitled to U.S. constitutional rights and Miranda so-called "rights". Obama and his flaks are al Qaeda's best friends ....

    February 12, 2010 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  23. jules sand-perkins

    I live in New York City.
    The worst problem with trying terrorists here is that we have no functional death penalty here.
    I may be wrong, but I think the last execution in New York was in 1963.

    February 12, 2010 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain

    Biased and others of his ilk don't understand that our legal system has a much higher conviction rate than our military tribunals. If you really want to convict these SOBs, send them to civilian court.

    He also doesn't get that people who commit criminal acts are criminals, plain and simple. Yes, they commit terrorist acts, but they are not part of any recognized military force, so they don't fall under military law.

    My figure of over 300 comes from what Bush himself claim his justice department did. And regardless of whether domestic or international, convicting that many terrorists is a good thing.

    February 12, 2010 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  25. ThinkAgain

    People who think that by putting terrorists through our judicial system is somehow being soft on them don't understand the simple fact that our country was founded by people wanting to be free from tyranny!

    That includes upholding the rule of law. Yes, sometimes it may feel better to just take someone out and shoot them, but when a society does that, without evidence and a trial, you become your enemy!

    Again, grow up and grow a pair, all you impatient, cowering, scaredy-cat Americans, and get behind the principles our nation was founded upon!

    Whatever happened to all your chest-thumping and talk about "We'll bring them all to justice" ?!?

    When push comes to shove, you are a bunch of sniveling brats!

    February 12, 2010 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
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