Obama: Professed 9/11 Mastermind will be Convicted

By: Devlin Barrett AP Email
By: Devlin Barrett AP Email

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama predicted that professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be convicted and executed as Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed:
"Failure is not an option."

Even if a terror trial suspect was acquitted, Holder said, he would not be released in the United States.

In one of a series of TV interviews during his trip to Asia, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Mohammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Obama quickly added that he did not mean to suggest he was prejudging the outcome of Mohammed's trial. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."

In interviews broadcast on NBC and CNN Wednesday, the president also said that experienced prosecutors in the case who specialize in terrorism have offered assurances that "we'll convict this person with the evidence they've got, going through our system."

Obama said the American people should have no concern about the capability of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. Attorney General Eric Holder last week announced the decision to bring Mohammed and four others detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to trial at a lower Manhattan courthouse.

Holder sought to explain U.S. prosecution strategy Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers questioned him along largely partisan lines over his decision last week to send Mohammed and four alleged henchmen from a detention center at
Guantanamo Bay to New York to face a civilian federal trial in New York.

Asked what might happen if the suspects are acquitted, Holder replied: "Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don't expect that we will have a contrary result."

Sen. Charles Grassley quickly criticized that answer.

"It just seemed to me ludicrous, but I'm a farmer, not a lawyer," Grassley said.

Seeking to allay such concerns, Holder insisted the suspects will be convicted, but even if one isn't, "that doesn't mean that person would be released into our country."

Critics of Holder's decision - mostly Republicans - have argued the trial will give Mohammed a world stage to spout hateful rhetoric.

Holder said such concerns are misplaced, because judges can control unruly defendants and any pronouncements by Mohammed would only make him look worse.

"I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is," Holder told the committee. "I'm not scared of what Khalid Sheik Mohammed has to say at trial - and no one else needs to be either."

Holder said the public and the nation's intelligence secrets can be protected during a public trial in civilian court.

"We need not cower in the face of this enemy," Holder says. "Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, supported Holder's decision.

Mohammed, Leahy said, "committed crimes of murder in our country and we will prosecute them in our country. We're the most powerful nation on earth, we have a justice system that is the envy of the world. We will not be afraid."

The committee's ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, criticized the decision, saying it treats Mohammed like a common criminal.

"I believe this decision is dangerous, I believe it's misguided, I believe it's unnecessary," Sessions said.

Holder announced Friday that five accused Sept. 11 conspirators currently held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be transferred to federal court in Manhattan to face trial - just blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Five other suspects, Holder said, will be sent to face justice before military commissions in the United States, though a location for those commissions has not yet been determined.

The actual transfer of the suspects to New York is still many weeks away. The transfers are a key step in Obama's pledge to close the detention center at Guantanamo, which currently houses some 215 detainees. The administration is not expected to meet its January deadline to shutter the facility.

In addition to the 10 detainees named Friday, Holder is expected to send others to trials and commissions in the United States.

Another, larger group of detainees is expected to be released to other countries. Some, the president has said, are too dangerous to be released and cannot be put on trial, and those detainees will continue to be imprisoned.

The attorney general says his decisions between trials and commissions were based strictly on which venues he thought would
bring the strongest prosecution.

Opponents of the plan, including Holder's predecessor Michael Mukasey, have accused him of adopting a "pre-9/11" approach to terrorism.

Holder emphatically denied that.

"We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power - civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and others - to win," Holder said.

Separately, a member of the Judiciary Committee, Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, is urging the administration to reimburse the city for what he says could be $75 million in extra security costs related to the terror trials.


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