The Obama administration has signaled that it is willing to allow the Justice Department to find a new venue to prosecute self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The senator’s spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said Schumer spoke “with high-level members of the administration and urged them to find alternatives.”
The move comes a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on the Justice Department to change the venue of the trial. Bloomberg had been a staunch supporter of holding the trial in New York.
“It would be an inconvenience at the least, and probably that’s too mild a word for people that live in the neighborhood and businesses in the neighborhood,” Bloomberg was quoted as telling reporters. “There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive for New York City”
In a statement aboard Air Force One Thursday as President Obama flew to Tampa, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the administration will not weigh in on where the trial should be held.
“Let me start by saying that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a murderous thug who has admitted to some of the most heinous crimes ever committed against our country,” Burton said. “The president is committed to seeing that he’s brought to justice. He agrees with the attorney general’s opinion in November that he and others can be litigated successfully and securing in the United States of America, just like others have, like Richard Reid. Currently our federal jails hold hundreds of convicted terrorists, and the president’s opinion has not changed on that.”
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last November that the trial for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be held in New York City.
The decision by Holder and the Obama administration to hold the trial in New York City was met with loud opposition, which came mainly from Republicans.
The issue took on a renewed sense of urgency Thursday with legislation introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) aimed at outlawing the prosecution of terrorists in federal criminal courts.
King said on his website that the choice to transfer Mohammed and four others to New York “is one of the worst decisions ever made by any president.” King’s legislation, titled “Stopping Criminal Trials for Guantanamo Terrorists Act of 2010,” would prevent Justice Department funds from being used to prosecute any person detained at Guantanamo in a criminal court in the United States or one of its territories.
Even Democrats became concerned. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) joined seven other elected officials in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that said they “are concerned that the Administration has not fully considered the impact that the trials would have on lower Manhattan.” In the letter they requested an evaluation of potential trial sites outside of Manhattan.
The decision to try Mohammed and four others in a Manhattan Federal court has been a flashpoint for argument since announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on November 13, 2009. The decision to try Mohammed in a civilian court, as opposed to a Military Commission has been an issue or argument for weeks.
The letter to Holder from Nadler and the seven other elected officials, along with King’s bill to prevent the 9/11 trial from receiving Justice Department funds echoed Bloomberg’s newfound concern about the price tag for the trial and the potential for the trial to disrupt people and business in the city.
“It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn’t cost a billion dollars, which using downtown will,” Bloomberg said.
Joshua Durkin is a contributor to The Public Record based in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org