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Officials Say Obama Administration Considers Moving 9/11 Trial

A courtroom sketch of terror suspects facing U.S. charges.
A courtroom sketch of terror suspects facing U.S. charges.

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Elizabeth Lee

The White House is facing strong political opposition to plans to hold trials in New York for five key suspects in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg recently asked the Obama administration to hold the trial somewhere else.

The self proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks may not have his day in court in New York, just minutes from where the Twin Towers once stood.

White House officials say the administration is considering moving the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed out of New York City.

This comes just days after New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, asked the administration to rethink its decision, saying, "My hope is that the attorney general and the president decide to change their mind."

Mayor Bloomberg originally supported the administration's decision to try Mohammed and four others in Manhattan's federal court.  But he changed his mind, saying it would cost more than 200 million dollars a year to hold a trial in lower Manhattan. "It's going to cost an awful lot of money and disturb an awful lot of people," he said.

Georgetown professor Robert Lieber says he is not surprised the White House may be shifting its position. "What you've got here is a legal issue and a political issue and both of those are very much in play at the present time," he said.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four more September 11 suspects would face civil trial instead of a military tribunal, and they would tried in Manhattan federal court.

The Justice Department has been under public and political pressure since the announcement. Six senators,  Republicans, Democrats, and an Independent recently wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him not to try Mohammed and the other alleged September 11 conspirators in New York City. They say having a trial so close to where the Twin Towers once stood would be a recruitment and radicalization tool to terrorists.

"This bipartisan letter from senators to the administration is a very significant one because of the growing opposition both among Republicans and Democrats to holding the trial in New York, but too, in the end, the Congress has the power of the purse," said Lieber.

Some lawmakers are already talking about introducing legislation to cut off federal funds for holding a trial in New York.

Some Democrats and Republicans are against civil trials for alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay. They want them tried in military court.

Charles Allen is with the Department of Homeland Security and is a former CIA Assistant Director. "We really do have to be very careful about trying people in civil courts, in giving them a status beyond what is wanted," he said.

Accused terrorists have already been prosecuted in Manhattan federal court.  But analysts say the September 11 case is different.  "Given the opposition in Congress and public opposition, including the possibility of cutting off funds for the trial, I think they'll move it out of New York," said Lieber.

Officials have not mentioned alternate locations. But they say President Obama is still committed to seeing Mohammed brought to justice in civil court.
 

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