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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/12/art.holder.file.gi.jpg caption="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. ThinkAgain

    My guess is New Yorkers, being the tough, resilient people they are (they've come through 9/11 and gave us the Miracle on the Hudson), can handle these trials.

    February 12, 2010 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  2. MJ

    This is a no-brainer. Try them as Military Terrorists. Why should we, as Tax Paying Americans, pay millions to have this Circus? You don't believe that they could get set free? Think again.

    February 12, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain

    More good reading for Biased and others who think our judicial system is soft on terrorists:

    Check out the "Terrorist Trial Report Card 2001-2009," by the Center on Law and Security, New York University School of Law.

    According to the report, the Department of Justice has charged 346 defendants with terrorism/national security violations. Of those charged, the conviction rate is 88.8%.

    There are charts and tables that break it all down, including information on the grand total of terrorism indictments (in addition to those charged with terrorism/national security violations).

    Sounds like our judicial system is working just fine to me.

    February 12, 2010 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  4. Jenn, Philadelphia

    2 things: #1 – while we may have tried other terrorists in civilian court, none were of KSM's level. this man will be a rallying point for every would-be or actual jhadist trying to send a message; #2 – maybe if the White House "got more involved" the first time, they wouldn't be playing clean up now.

    February 12, 2010 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  5. valwayne

    We're to understand that the White House is just now getting involved? Yeah right!!!! Obama and Holder cooked up the insanity of spending a billion dollars for circus trial in NYC for the murdering terrorists who planned 9/11. They are both responsible, but as usual Obama is doing his best to pass the buck. However, who cares if the insanity comes to an end. Obama needs to fire Holder immediately and turn the murdering terrorists over to the military for military trials on Guantanamo Naval Base. Let some common sense finally prevail in this nightmare administration!!!!

    February 12, 2010 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
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