Ten Years Later: The September 11 Attacks
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September 11 Terrorist Trial Controversy

Title: Terrorist trial protest
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For several years, the U.S. government has been planning the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several other men accused of being involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mohammed, a member of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, was captured in 2003 and has confessed to playing a key role in the planning of the September 11 operation. After being held for more than two years in a remote prison in Pakistan, he was transferred to the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba in September 2006.

On February 11, 2008, military prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Defense charged Mohammed and five other Guantánamo prisoners with war crimes and murder for their roles in the September 11 attacks and said they would seek the death penalty for the six men. During his arraignment hearing before a military tribunal in Guantánamo Bay in June 2008, Mohammed declared he wanted to be put to death and viewed as a martyr.

When U.S. attorney general Eric Holder announced in November 2009 that Mohammed and four coconspirators—Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi—would face a civilian trial in New York City, the news set off a firestorm of controversy. Most of the initial objections centered around the decision to try the five men in a civilian court rather than before a military commission. Several members of Congress asserted that the Al Qaeda terrorists did not warrant the protections they would receive under the U.S. criminal justice system. They also expressed their concern that the trials would trigger more terrorist attacks in the United States and would also lead to the disclosure of classified material.

Initially, many Congressional Democrats and New York City officials supported the Barack Obama administration's plans for holding the trial in downtown Manhattan. When some relatives of September 11 victims voiced their opinion that holding the trial only blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center was insensitive, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out that the location of the trials was appropriate and a powerful symbol. Addressing concerns about the security challenges the trial presented, Bloomberg expressed his confidence that the New York Police Department was up to the task.

However, during the next few months, objections to the plan to hold the trial in New York City increased, with the New York Real Estate Board and Wall Street firms complaining that the security measures needed for the trial would be too disruptive to the business community. After security costs for the trial were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, Bloomberg withdrew his support for holding the trials in Manhattan, explaining that the costs and disruptions would be too high. As a result, on January 29, 2010, the Obama administration dropped its plan to hold the trials in New York.

Throughout the rest of the year, little progress was made in choosing an alternate site for the trials of the five September 11 suspects. Until a location is agreed upon, Mohammed and the others will continue to be held indefinitely.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Calabresi, Massimo. "Prosecuting KSM: Harder Than You Think." Time, November 13, 2009; Finn, Peter, and Anne E. Kornblut. "Opposition to U.S. Trial Likely to Keep Mastermind of 9/11 Attacks in Detention." Washington Post, November 13, 2010; Savage, Charlie. "Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y." New York Times, November 13, 2009; Shane, Scott, and Benjamin Weiser. "U.S. Drops Plan for a 9/11 Trial in New York City." New York Times, January 30, 2010.
 

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