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N.Y. trial not off the table for top 9/11 suspect, Holder tells Senate panel

By William Branigin
Washington Post / April 15, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder said yesterday that the Obama administration has not ruled out holding a trial in New York City for the suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder came under fire from Republicans on the panel over the administration’s handling of terrorism cases, including plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and try terrorist suspects in civilian courts.

Holder told the committee that, despite widespread objections, “New York is not off the table’’ as a venue for the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the avowed mastermind of the attacks, and four alleged coconspirators.

In response, Representative Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, called on President Obama to exclude definitively New York City as a potential site for the trial and to remove Holder from the decision-making process in selecting a venue.

“I am shocked and appalled that Attorney General Holder is still considering New York City as the venue,’’ King said in a statement. “These terrorists should be tried in a military commission outside New York City.’’

Holder said in November that the government planned to try the five in federal court near the site of the World Trade Center towers. But the administration has reconsidered the venue in the face of mounting public criticism, objections from Republicans, and misgivings by key officials, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, and Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat.

The White House now is considering a plan to let a military commission try the Sept. 11 suspects, reverting to a solution first advanced by the Bush administration.

In his testimony, Holder argued strongly against banning trials for terrorist suspects in federal criminal court, as advocated by some critics. Such a prohibition, he said, would seriously weaken national security.

He said the administration has established a presumption that civilian courts would take preference over military tribunals for terrorist trials but that it was a rebuttable presumption. He urged flexibility and pragmatism in deciding where to hold the trials.