The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama would consider a military trial for five men charged with planning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Republicans and Democrats are criticizing the administration's decision to hold the trial in a civilian court in New York.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decided last year that the trial of five suspects in the 9-11 attacks would take place in a federal court in New York City.
Now, President Obama is taking another look at that decision, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, to prevent possible intervention in the matter by the U.S. Senate. "There are efforts on Capitol Hill, through legislation, to restrict either the type of or the venue of a trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators. That, by definition, involves the White House and, ultimately, the president," he said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is sponsoring legislation to stop terror suspects held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from being brought to the United States for civilian trials. In his party's weekly address Saturday, Graham says civilian trials of al-Qaida terrorists are dangerous. "Never before have we allowed non-citizen, enemy combatants captured on the battlefield access to our civilian courts providing them with the same constitutional rights as American citizens," he sqid.
Graham refers to the 1995 trial in which Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman was convicted in a federal court of plotting the first attempt to blow up New York's World Trade Center.
He says civilian court rules required the government to disclose to the defense the identity of all known co-conspirators, one of whom was Osama bin Laden. "Our intelligence services later learned this list made its way back to bin Laden tipping him off about our surveillance. A conviction was obtained in that trial, but valuable intelligence was compromised. The rest is history," he said.
Graham says military tribunals are the best way to render justice and protect the nation from terrorists. "These trials will be conducted by the same men and women who administer justice to our own troops. They are competent professionals with a great understanding of their obligations under the law. It is a system of justice that allows us to move securely forward in this war while upholding our values," he said.
Since Attorney General Holder decided to seek a civilian prosecution, military charges lodged by the administration of previous President George W. Bush were dismissed last month. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday those charges could be revived, now that the Obama administration has made reforms in the military justice system. "The reform efforts that have been brought about insure the type of protections that would withstand constitutional and Supreme Court scrutiny," he said.
The White House has been under fire on security issues since a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up an airliner landing in Detroit late last year.
Gibbs sought to reassure lawmakers from both parties, as well as some foreign governments, that wherever the 9-11 trial is held, the U.S. will vigorously prosecute the suspects. "One way or the other, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be brought to justice by these decisions. I do not think you can be any tougher than that. This president has, without going into great detail, taken the fight internationally to terror suspects," he said.
Gibbs said the president is taking into account security and logistical concerns, after objections were raised by local officials in New York.