- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

UPDATED:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York for trial in a civilian federal court, and he expects to seek the death penalty.

“After eight years of delays, those responsible … will be brought to justice,” Mr. Holder said at a press conference at Justice Department headquarters.

Mr. Holder said the trials in New York will take place “just blocks away from where the Twin Towers stood” and will be handled by prosecutors working in the Southern District of New York, which has held other major terrorism trials.

Mr. Holder identified the four others as Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — all accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which more than 2,970 people were killed by hijacked planes.

The five other detainees will face military commissions.

Among them is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind.

The other four are Ahmed Mohammed al Darbi, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, Noor Uthman Muhammed and Omar Khadr — the Canadian national who was 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces after a firefight in Afghanistan.

It will likely be several weeks before the detainees arrive in New York because some formal charges have yet to be filed.

The decision to bring the detainees came just before the government’s deadline Monday for deciding how to proceed against 10 detainees facing a military commission.

President Obama vowed that the self-described mastermind of the September 11 attacks will feel “the most exacting demands of justice.”

Bringing the detainees to the U.S. for trial is a big step in Mr. Obama’s plan to close the detention center. However, Mr. Holder said Friday that meeting its Jan. 22 deadline for closing the facility is unlikely.

Mr. Holder’s official announcement followed news of the resignation of White House counsel Greg Craig — the man designated by the president to unravel the tangle of legal questions surrounding the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Mr. Craig’s departure had been the subject of persistent speculation since the president’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison by January began to falter. Veteran Washington lawyer and Obama adviser Bob Bauer will replace Mr. Craig as the White House’s top attorney.

Mr. Graig said he plans to leave officially January 3.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was emphatic that Mr. Craig was not leaving because the president was dissatisfied with his work.

“I can say as somebody who has worked with Greg throughout the campaign … and then as White House counsel, the president sees Greg as a friend and a trusted adviser,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Word of Mr. Craig’s fate had began to spread just as the president landed in Tokyo for the start of an eight-day, four-country mission to Asia.

After Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met for 90 minutes at the ornate executive offices, they stood for a brief press conference, at which the president addressed the developments about Mr. Mohammed.

The president also responded to criticism that he is taking too long to set a course for the conflict in Afghanistan. After eight meetings with his senior national security team, an exhaustive report by the top military general in the field, and consultations with other military and civilian leaders, the president said he is now close to making a decision.

Mr. Obama said his deliberations are “not an academic exercise but a necessary process in order to make sure we’re making the best possible decision.”

“I recognize that there have been critics of the process,” he said. “They tend not to be folks I think are directly involved in what’s happening in Afghanistan. Those who are, recognize the gravity of this situation and recognize the importance of our getting this right.”

The president said the decision will come soon, and will be “fully transparent” and will not involve “an open-ended commitment.”

Mr. Gibbs said early planning has begun on a major speech in which the president will explain to the American public his decision on Afghanistan policy.

“I think, and we have begun to discuss, once a decision is made the president understands the important aspect of explaining what went into this decision, why the decision was made, how it will impact the men and women serving in the military, the health of our force, transferring power back to the afghans” Mr. Gibbs said. “The president understands that and will explain fully what this policy means to the American people.”

While the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama concluded Friday with joint statements about the desire for the U.S. and Japan to work together on pressing issues such as climate change and nuclear disarmament, the president got a first taste of the challenge of launching a diplomatic mission while he is juggling so many critical issues back at home.

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