Accused 9/11 terrorists to face military tribunal

Photo by Brennan Linsley

Photo by Brennan Linsley

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 terrorists will be tried before military tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

The decision is a sharp reversal for the Obama administration, which wanted the alleged terrorists to have federal civilian trials.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Congress has imposed restrictions on where Guantanamo detainees can be tried, and rather than fight those restrictions and delay the trial, he ordered prosecutors to dismiss the federal indictment in New York in favor of a military trial.

Holder emphasized that prosecutors were "prepared to bring a powerful case" against the suspects and he still believes a civilian trial would have been the best choice.

Five suspects are charged before military commissions with participating in the 9/11 plot: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. All five are currently at Guantanamo.

Holder has promised to seek the death penalty for each of the five men.

President Barack Obama's primary concern is that the accused perpetrators "be brought to justice as swiftly as possible," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Initially, the attorney general was also a staunch advocate of civilian trials for the suspects. In November 2009, he said that "they will be brought to New York ... to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood."

"I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years," he insisted at the time.

Holder's plan was sharply criticized by both Republican leaders and key members of the New York congressional delegation. Among other things, critics cited cost and security concerns tied to a trial in Manhattan. They also argued that the suspects -- who are not American citizens -- should not receive the rights and protections provided to defendants in civilian courts.