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Obama administration moves terror trial to Guantanamo Bay

March 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Obama administration yielded to political opposition and said the alleged architects of the Sept. 11 attacks will be tried at Guantanamo Bay, and not in a civilian federal court in the U.S.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will be tried by a military commission at the Cuba facility, and not in the courts in New York City as President Obama originally proposed.

Congress passed legislation that prohibits bringing any detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States. Monday, the attorney general called those congressional restrictions unwise and unwarranted and said a legislative body cannot make prosecutorial decisions.

Although President Barack Obama made a campaign pledge to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba, Holder indicated that isn't going to happen any time soon because of congressional restrictions.

"We must face a simple truth: those restrictions are unlikely to be repealed in the immediate future," said Holder.

Republican lawmakers welcomed the shift.

"It's unfortunate that it took the Obama administration more than two years to figure out what the majority of Americans already know: that 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not a common criminal, he's a war criminal," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the administration. Cases prosecuted in military commissions now "are sure to be subject to continuous legal challenges and delays, and their outcomes will not be seen as legitimate. That is not justice," said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero.

In New York on Monday, the government unsealed an indictment that outlined its case. It charged Mohammed and the others with 10 counts relating to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The indictment said that in late August 2001, as the terrorists in the United States made final preparations, Mohammed was notified about the date of the attack and relayed that to al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

The Justice Department got a judge to dismiss the indictment Monday because of the change in trial plans. There is no word on when the military tribunals will convene.

Holder will seek the death penalty against all five men. He said it is unclear whether the men could receive the death penalty if they plead guilty in military court. It will be up to the Pentagon to decide whether the military commission trial will be held at Guantanamo, where the defendants are held, or elsewhere. Also undetermined is whether one or several trials will be needed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story