In a volte-face, the Obama Administration today said that the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his four co-conspirators would now be tried in a military court instead of a civilian court.
"I am referring the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Whalid Mohammed bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi to the Department of Defence to proceed in military commissions," US Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference.
This is a complete reversal of his November 2009 announcement that Sheikh Muhammad and four other individuals would stand trial in federal court for their roles in the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.
"I stand by that decision today," Holder said but quickly added that he has reversed his previous decision because of the opposition from Congressmen who intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the US.
"Sadly, this case has been marked by needless controversy since the beginning. Despite all arguments and debate it has engendered, the prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators should never have been about settling ideological arguments or scoring political points," he said.
Known as "KSM," Sheikh Mohammed is the self-proclaimed architect of the 9/11 attacks and a host of other plots.
Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in 2003 in Rawalpindi in Pakistan and handed over to American agents who held him in secret prisons for over three years before sending him to Guantanamo in September 2006.
The announcement was welcomed by Republican lawmakers. Senator Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that had Sheikh Muhammad's trial, which was underway in 2009, not been halted, that trial may now have been finished.
"This is a commonsense decision that is long overdue, and one that will ultimately provide some closure for the families of the victims of 9/11," the Senator said.
"Bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators here for civilian trials would have put American lives at risk, demonstrating little had been learned from that horrific day nearly 10 years ago.
"The attacks of September 11 were an act of war, and the Administration needs to unconditionally abandon its irresponsible, pre-9/11 approach to terror," said Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed disappointment over the Administration's decision.
"I believe that our justice system, which is the envy of the world, is more than capable of trying high-profile terrorism and national security cases. Federal courts have convicted hundreds of terrorists. The record in military commissions pales in comparison, with only a handful of convictions, and the ground rules still in flux," he said.
Obama's U-Turn: Trial of 9/11 Accused in Military Court
Lalit K Jha/Washington
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