Obama under pressure on 9/11 trial

WASHINGTON, Shaun Tandon - The White House will need weeks to decide on the trial of the September 11 plotters, an official said Friday, after its plans for a military tribunal triggered a strong reaction.
President Barack Obama's administration had announced it would try self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused at a New York courthouse just steps from where the World Trade Center once stood.

Detainees kneel during early morning Islamic prayer
Detainees kneel during early morning Islamic prayer
But the plan for the "trial of the century" met a backlash from lawmakers who have introduced legislation to require a military trial, throwing a challenge to Obama months ahead of mid-term elections.
"The White House is continuing to review what the available options are that would bring the 9/11 detainees to justice," an official said on condition of anonymity.
"No decision has been made, and we do not expect a decision for weeks as the review process is ongoing," the official said.
The Washington Post reported Friday that White House aides would recommend that Obama make a U-turn and accept a military trial, as part of a deal that could help Obama shut down the military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
Mohammed and the other accused are detained at the controversial camp in Cuba as they await trial over the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed close to 3,000 people, most in New York.
Human rights groups criticized any move for a military trial, saying it would not provide the due process and openness needed to bring legitimacy.
"The United States is just beginning to restore a measure of its credibility as a champion of human rights on the international stage," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
"In one stroke, President Obama could reverse that hard-won progress," he said.
Senator Russ Feingold, an outspoken champion of civil liberties, said that civilian courts have a "great track record" convicting terrorists and that a military trial could trigger years of legal challenges.
"The best way to bring these terrorists to justice swiftly is through our civilian courts," said Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.
But a number of other lawmakers, including some Democrats, have urged the administration to keep Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators under military jurisdiction.
The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said that accused foreign terrorists "should be treated as military prisoners, not like US citizens."
The civilian trial "was a horrible idea in the first place, and no one should be surprised by the growing public opposition," he said.
The plan for the New York trial also lost the crucial support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has worried about the high costs and disruption of holding the trial in lower Manhattan.
The Washington Post said that if Obama accepted a military tribunal, he may be able to secure from Congress the funds and legal authority to close the Guantanamo prison.
The Obama administration is seeking around 237 million dollars to move Guantanamo prisoners to a maximum-security prison off the Mississippi River in Thomson, Illinois.
But McConnell renewed criticism of the plan, saying it would create little more than a "Gitmo North."
"It makes little sense to waste the taxpayers' dollars simply to change the zip code for such a prison," he said.
Obama took office pledging to close down the prison in Cuba, which many around the world consider a symbol of excesses under former president George W. Bush and his "war on terror."
But the Obama administration missed a self-imposed deadline to shut it down within a year of taking office.
Despite criticism by rights groups, the administration says it will continue to hold some prisoners indefinitely without trial, albeit on US soil.
Obama is bracing for a fierce election-year battle on security issues, with Republicans attacking him for having civilian authorities detain the Nigerian "underwear bomber."
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane with nearly 300 people aboard on Christmas Day.

Saturday, March 6th 2010
Shaun Tandon

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