9/11 suspects to finally be tried

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, accused 9/11 ringleader, as he reportedly looks now. (AP)

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, accused 9/11 ringleader, as he reportedly looks now. (AP)

After seven years of the Bush administration arresting paint ball afficionadoes, wayward gang members, and oddly religioned karate-men, we’re finally going to see justice done to some of the people actually involved in 9/11. And isn’t that a change of pace… From the WaPo:

Khalid Sheik Mohammed — the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — and four co-defendants will be tried in federal court in New York instead of a military commission, with prosecutors likely to seek the death penalty, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Friday.

The long-awaited decision, part of President Obama’s quest to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sparked immediate outrage from Republican lawmakers, who said military commissions are a more secure and appropriate place to try suspected terrorists. But the announcement drew praise from civil rights advocates, who argue that the detainees’ civil rights have been violated by years of detention without trial and the use of military commissions.

“Our nation has had no higher priority than bringing those who planned and carried out the attack to justice,” Holder said.

He said the detainees will be transferred to the United States after all legal requirements, including a 45-day notice and report to Congress are fulfilled, and after state and local authorities have been consulted. They will be housed in maximum-security units in New York that have held other terrorism suspects. Once federal charges are filed against the five men, military charges now pending against them will be withdrawn.

“They’ll be charged for what we believe they did, and that is to mastermind and carry out the 9/11 attacks,” Holder said of the five defendants.

“For over 200 years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims,” Holder said. “Once again we will ask our legal system to rise to that challenge, and I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice.”

Amen, and amen. The trials will take place — appropriately enough — in New York, and Holder will seek the death penalty. Meanwhile, two other accused terrorists, linked to the U.S.S. Cole bombing, will face trial by military commission, which makes sense as that’s a military case.

Meanwhile, the Gitmo bugaboo has apparently taken down White House Counsel Greg Craig, who has resigned amid grumbling that he botched the plan to close the symbol of America’s darkest hour, by January. He’s being replaced by a guy called Bob Bauer, who up to now has been President Obama’s personal attorney. The fact that the two announcements came on the same day, I think sends a clear message that this administration is serious about finally closing Guantanamo, and removing the stain the prison has placed on our national honor. Somewhere, Dick Cheney’s black heart just shriveled up a little more. The president had this to say from Japan:

“I’m absolutely convinced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice,” Mr. Obama said. “The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it.”

UPDATE: Holder defends Craig on Gitmo.

I’ve been one of those who has been dismayed by this administration’s lack of bold action, to demonstrate that they’re actually bringing about the change Mr. Obama promised. This, I must say, is a very, very good sign.

… Let’s just hope the Bush torture madness doesn’t screw up the trials.

UPDATE: Of course, there will be Lieberman

(Amy Davidson, The New Yorker) Not everyone seems to be happy that a man believed to be a mass murderer is going on trial, strange to say. Senator Joe Lieberman, on cue, said that the proceedings would give KSM a chance to “mock” his victims. Mock? KSM will be the one on trial; we, free people with a new tower being built at Ground Zero, will be the ones judging. (The tower’s construction delays may, on reflection, be the one mockable aspect of this.) One of the shabbier arguments one hears is that we shouldn’t put KSM on trial a civilian court because he will walk right out of there—some liberal judge will throw out the case, just because he was tortured. Oddly, this is presented as a vindication of places like Guantánamo, rather than as one of their flaws. But it is all less about logic than about scaring people. There was an indictment against KSM for terrorist activities even before September 11, 2001—an indictment, one assumes, that had evidence to back it up. There is no good reason he should not have been put on trial long ago. If his trial reveals details of his detainment that are embarrassing, then that’s just one more reason to go ahead with it—we deserve as much as anyone to know what our government has done.

Amen, Amy. Shut up, Joe.

And the AP has some intriguing insights into how the Obama administration might be able to get the trials done, without using evidence gleaned from Bush-Cheney-era torture:

Prosecutors say Lazhar Ben Mohamed Tlil may hold the key to prosecuting Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Italy and may be crucial to U.S. prosecutions, too.

But now he’s threatening to clam up.

Tlil’s Italian court-appointed lawyer says he has already provided important details to a team of U.S. investigators and identified from photos fellow Tunisian trainees in the Afghan camps. While the cases are confidential, authorities say he also has provided important information to the Italians about several detainees at Guantanamo who might be brought to Italy and tried in a criminal court.

Italian prosecutors say the 40-year-old Tunisian is one of only two extremists held in Europe who actually trained in the camps and are therefore able to provide critical court testimony, should the Obama administration put Guantanamo prisoners on trial in civilian courts.

And it now appears that such trials will take place. On Friday, an Obama administration official said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind, and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court.

But Tlil is unhappy with Italy’s witness protection program and feeling “abandoned,” according to his lawyer. He is threatening to withhold testimony — not only with American authorities but also, potentially, with Italian prosecutors who may one day prosecute Guantanamo prisoners in Italy. Italy is one of the nations that has agreed to accept Guantanamo prisoners as part of President Barack Obama’s plans to close the prison.

If Italy can work out the problems, this guy may be a big help… Meanwhile, the Huffpo reports that the feds are also looking to strike plea deals with some defendants, to secure their testimony against others. And this is truly sad:

The plea bargaining exposes the difficulty the government faces in bringing prosecutable cases against these defendants and others still in Guantanamo. Most of the remaining detainees are considered too difficult to prosecute, mostly because the evidence against them is thin or based on statements obtained through coercion.

One defense attorney said federal prosecutors had so little on his client that they asked the detainee to suggest a charge he would be willing to plead guilty to.

The unusual, competitive nature of the government’s efforts, which pit the Justice Department against the Pentagon, was described by both defense attorneys and senior government officials. The officials acknowledged that the flurry of offers underscores the weaknesses in the cases against many of the Guantanamo inmates whom the Obama administration had hoped to prosecute.

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