9/11 Trials Decision Postponed Until After Midterm Elections

source: Pittsburgh Live      July 4, 2010

In February, as the Justice Department’s plan for civilian terrorism trials in Manhattan was collapsing, Obama administration officials said they soon would choose an alternative venue for the case that promised to secure justice for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In March, officials said that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks, probably would be tried before a military tribunal and that a decision appeared to be imminent.

In April, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that the White House-led review of the case would be completed in “a number of weeks.”

Now the decision on where to hold the high-profile trials of Mohammed and four others accused of being Sept. 11 conspirators has been put on hold and probably will not be made until after November’s midterm elections, according to law enforcement, administration and congressional sources. In an unusual twist, the matter has been taken out of the hands of the Justice Department officials who usually make prosecutorial decisions and rests entirely with the White House, the sources said.

“It’s a White House call,” said one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “We’re all in the dark.”

The delays are tied to the Obama administration’s broader difficulties in closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — where Mohammed and the other detainee are held — and are unlikely to affect the outcome of a trial that officials vow will be held at some point. But people on all sides of the debate over whether Mohammed should be tried in federal court or before a military commission expressed frustration that nearly nine years after Sept. 11, 2001, justice for the attacks seems so elusive.

Some Republicans and Sept. 11 family members see political motivations in the delay.

“It will be a very unpopular decision, one way or another, and they don’t want it to have any impact on the (midterm) congressional races,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a critic of the Obama administration’s national security policies.

Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, Md., whose father and stepmother were killed on the hijacked airplane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field Sept. 11, said he found it “frustrating that domestic politics are subordinating criminal national security prosecutions.”

Holder, at a June 17 news conference, denied any political motive. “The conversations that we are having are ongoing,” he said. “The political thing … the fact of the elections is not a part of the conversations at all.”

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