US to heed local concerns on 9/11 trial site

Associated Press / February 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said yesterday it would consider local opposition when deciding where to hold the Sept. 11 trials and pledged to seek swift justice for the professed mastermind of the attacks.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice, and he’s going to meet his maker,’’ President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.’’ “He will be brought to justice, and he’s likely to be executed for the heinous crimes that he committed in killing and masterminding the killing of 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of.’’

Objections from New York City officials and residents have intensified since the Justice Department announced late last year it planned to put Mohammed and accused Sept. 11 conspirators on trial in federal court in lower Manhattan. In its new budget, the administration is proposing a $200 million fund to help pay for security costs in cities hosting terrorist trials.

White House aide David Axelrod said Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other New York City officials have changed their minds after initially supporting the decision for trials in the city, citing logistics and costs. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ Axelrod said no decision has yet been made on a new location.

“The president believes that we need to take into consideration what the local authorities are saying,’’ Axelrod said. “But he also believes . . . that we ought to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all others who are involved in terrorist acts to justice swift and sure.’’

Safety and cost have been issues in the debate, but some officials also have questioned the administration’s legal strategy for using civilian courts for the suspects instead of military tribunals.

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said the administration should shift the trials to military courts, which he said have been reviewed by Congress to ensure fairness. He and other Republicans have criticized officials for charging Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian court in the Christmas airliner plot instead of turning him over to military authorities.