9/11 Families Ask Attorney General For Court Trial of Suspects
Washington, DC – Families of 9/11 victims asked the Justice Department on Thursday to continue its original plan of prosecuting suspects of the terror attacks in civilian courts. The appeal was in response to comments by Attorney General Eric Holder that a decision on the trial would be made soon.
In an open letter, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows urged the attorney general to try the suspects “in federal courts that rely on the U.S. Constitution and the tenets of America’s 200 year-old system of justice.”
“The location is not of consequence, although New York, Virginia, or another venue in the East where most of the families reside, would be optimum,” the group said. “The overarching consideration is that these self-confessed, accused detainees must be tried under well-tested and fair laws recognized by the world.”
Holder said the previous day the government was “close to a decision” on the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the attacks, and four other suspects. He gave his comments a year after he announced the goverment would seek prosecution through U.S. federal courts instead of military commissions.
The proceedings were set to be held in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. However, the administration encountered criticisms from conservatives who said suspected terrorists should not be accorded the same constitutional rights as Americans in federal courts.
Community and business leaders in Manhattan had also raised concerns about costs of securing the city during the trial, which is expected to take several years. The cost was reported at $200 million annually.
Holder and other administration officials had argued that the Bush administration had used federal courts to try at least 190 terrorists, including Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted for 9/11.
Only three defendants have been convicted by military commissions while more than 300 defendants have been convicted and sentenced in federal criminal courts for terrorism-related offenses, according to the Obama administration.
New York had hosted the trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The arguments failed to persuade opponents, who later included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Top Republican senators also joined with three Democrats to introduce a bill prohibiting the Justice Department from using funds to try the suspects in federal court.
The highly-charged national debate prompted the administration early this year re-examine its plan, a move that was met with criticisms from liberals comparing Obama to former President George Bush.
Holder had testified before Congress, “We must choose the weapon that will be most effective…. It should be clear to everyone by now that there are many legal, national security and practical factors to be considered here. As a consequence, there are many perspectives on what the most appropriate and effective forum is.”
The issue has been complicated by efforts of the administration to close Guantanamo Bay, where Mohammed and his co-accused, Walid Muhammed Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi, are detained.
The Bush administration had also tried to shutter Guantanamo amid criticisms about its use of harsh interrogation methods on prisoners. Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked for assistance from countries with nationals detained in the prison to guarantee that detainees would not “be a danger to society again” once released.
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