Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and four other suspects would face civilian trial in New York rather than military tribunals at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The decision drew protests from some family members of terror victims and numerous expressions of concern from congressional Republicans. Among the questions asked: Would holding a trial in New York expose the city to security risks? Would the trial provide terror suspects with a propaganda platform? Would the U.S. justice system's rigorous procedures for presenting evidence hinder the prosecution? And, what if a judge dismissed the case or if a jury found the defendants not guilty?
Attorney General Holder has expressed confidence in New York's ability to host a civilian trial and said that "failure is not an option" when it comes to convicting the terror suspects.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked about the legal rights the defendants might gain once they are brought to the United States for trial.
"They are paroled [i.e., brought] into the country only for purposes of prosecution. There are no immigration benefits that accrue to that. Are they able, for example, to apply for asylum or refugee status? The answer is, 'No,'" she said.
And what if any of the terror suspects are found not guilty?
"In the off-chance [i.e., unlikely event] that there were to be an acquittal, those individuals would immediately be put into removal proceedings and deported from the country," she said.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas had this follow-up question:
CORNYN: "And where would you remove them to, if their home country would not take them back? Back to Gitmo [i.e., Guantanamo Bay, Cuba]?"
NAPOLITANO: "Senator, those are questions I do not like to answer on a speculative basis."
Attorney General Holder has said that an acquittal might land a terror suspect back into open-ended military detention, and that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will not be released into the United States as a free man, regardless of his trial's outcome.
Meanwhile, NBC Television is reporting that a federal grand jury in New York is hearing evidence and testimony in the September 11, 2001 terror case, with U.S. justice officials is seeking an indictment against five terror suspects.