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9/11 Trial Likely to Be Moved to Military Court

The Obama administration appears to be heavily weighing a decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, in a military court.

The move would be a major reversal in the terrorism case. Attorney General Eric Holder announced weeks ago that Mohammed and four other detainees would be tried in a civilian court in New York. There was increasing opposition and controversy due to the cost of the trial and those who think it belongs in a military venue.

Several weeks ago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he no longer supported having the trials in the city, citing their cost and their potential to be disruptive. Bloomberg was under pressure from business leaders who said the security necessary for the trial would essentially shut down lower Manhattan.

It is probable that civilian lawyers will still play a role in the trial. The big change is that instead of having the five men face charges in a federal courtroom, they will be tried in a military setting with military judges deciding their fate. The men would be transferred from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to the place where the military commissions would be located, which has not yet been revealed.

Holder intended to put the five men on trial in a Manhattan courthouse just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers were. Guantanamo detainees have been previously tried in special military tribunals, which have different rules of evidence and procedures than the U.S. civilian court system. Critics say military tribunals are unfair to the defendants.

The 9/11 attacks fall into a gray area of policy and law. Holder said the attacks are both an act of war and a violation of federal law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has been an outspoken opponent of the decision to hold the trial in a civil court, has been in talks with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The talks involve a potential agreement that would have Guantanamo detainees, not just these five, put into a military court system.

Questions yet to be answered include how the men will be tried, how the military commissions would work and where they will be located.


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