KSM and Others to Be Tried at Gitmo, Not as Civilians
In a reversal that many have seen coming but is nonetheless disappointing from a civil liberties perspective, US officials will announce today that Khalid Sheik Mohamed--who claims to be the 9/11 "mastermind" and the man behind other terror attacks--will face a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay instead of the civilian trial the Obama administration had advocated. At issue for civil libertarians is the secrecy and lack of due process that go hand and hand with these military trials which have different procedures and standards of proof than regular trials (for instance, hearsay evidence is admitted, there are limited options for appeal, etc). Several news agencies have confirmed the forthcoming announcement, which will include "KSM" and, allegedly, "four other" conspirators, from Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Obama administration had made closing Guantanamo Bay and returning to trying terrorists in civilian courts a huge priority both in campaigning and the early days of the administration, but the President hit political hurdles from congress and politicians in New York, hurdles which his administration perhaps did not have the will to push through.
In early March, President Obama signed an executive order that ended a two-year ban on military trials at Guantanamo Bay.
While Obama had campaigned on a promise to close the detention facility, and wanted to bring suspected terrorists to justice in civilian courts, Congress passed laws that conducting such trials almost impossible.
Congress in the past year has tried to undermine the administration's goal of closing Guantanamo by restricting funding for such policy changes. Meanwhile, the case of Ahmed Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in civilian court, last year cracked open the debate over how to bring to justice detainees in the "war on terror." Ghailani was convicted of one conspiracy charge but acquitted of more than 280 other charges related to his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed is a subject of controversy not just because of his claims of mass-murdering terrorism prowess, but because he was tortured by the US authorities during the Bush administration, water-boarded 183 times in one month. The efforts to give him a civilian trial in New York City, which were publicly advocated for by Holder, were met with opposition by local officials in the New York area who expressed concern about the cost and safety of such a trial.
In November, Think Progress summarized the PR battle over the location and type of trials:
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and other conspirators would be put on civilian trial in New York City. Since then, far-right partisans have launched a fearmongering campaign against the trial, seeking to undermine the American justice system and bolster a system of questionable military courts. Earlier this year, it was reported that many of President Obama’s closest advisers have come out against a civilian trial as well, and are likely to pressure Holder to back down.
Think Progress also reported that "9/11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow" had publicly asked Holder to remain committed to civilian trials.
It's unclear when the military trials will begin.