Uncertainty surrounds September-11 trial

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration appears increasingly unsure what to do with professed September 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after officials indicated they are reconsidering not just where he should go on trial, but whether he should face civilian or military justice.

Both Attorney General Eric Holder and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not rule out a military trial when asked yesterday about the

Obama administration’s options. Trying Mohammed in military court would mark

a further political retreat

from Holder’s announcement last year that Mohammed and the four other Sept 11 suspects now held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be tried in federal court in New York.

The Obama administration is trying to head off a possible vote in the Senate that could stop any terror suspects held at Guantanamo from being brought to the United States to face a civilian trial. Republican Sen Lindsey Graham is offering such legislation, after losing a vote last year on the issue. “These al-Qaida terrorists are not common criminals,” Graham said in the Republicans’ weekly radio and Internet address today.

“A civilian trial of hard-core terrorists is unnecessarily dangerous and creates more problems than it solves.” At

stake is the public perception of the administration’s handling

of national security, already shaken last year by strong congressional opposition to transferring any Guantanamo detainees to American soil. A defeat over the trial issue could embolden the Republican minority to raise national security concerns in midterm elections later this year.

“Military tribunals are the best way to render justice, win this war and protect our nation from a vicious enemy,” said Graham. The prospect of such a vote could test how many moderate Democrats have abandoned Obama on the issue.

White House officials said yesterday that Obama and his top advisers will play a direct role in ultimately deciding how to prosecute Mohammed. The administration initially decided to try the five terror defendants in New York but have since appeared to backtrack.

As a result of Holder’s decision to seek a civilian prosecution, Bush-era military charges that had been pending against the five suspects were dismissed last month. Those military charges could now be revived.