Decision to Try Terror Suspects in New York Draws Praise from Human Rights Activists
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NEW YORK, 15 Nov - The U.S. government's decision to bring five high-profile terror suspects to the United States to face trials in a civilian court has drawn reactions ranging from praise to condemnation to confusion.
While human rights advocates are generally applauding the decision to conduct trials in federal court in New York, they are at the same time strongly criticising the Justice Department for keeping the military commissions in place to try some suspects.
There appears to be confusion over how the government is making its decisions about which courts to choose for which defendants. This process remains unclear despite prolonged media questioning of Attorney General Eric Holder at his press conference at the Justice Department on Friday.
Holder announced at that press conference that five suspects allegedly involved in the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001 would be tried in New York, while five others would be tried before military commissions. The New York trials would include that of the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
And at a partisan political level, members of Congress and other Washington heavyweights are either praising Holder's decision or labeling it as handing a victory to al Qaeda while raising dire security risks for U.S. neighbourhoods.
Said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, "This decision is further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality - treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best."
"We need a real strategy for fighting and winning the war on America's terrorist enemies that includes an effective, credible, and consistent plan for all terrorist detainees," he said.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell echoed this theme, saying, "This misguided decision is based on the false belief that the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans in one day on U.S. soil are common criminals - not war criminals. But there are needless risks from this decision."
"Classified information can be inadvertently leaked, as it was in the first World Trade Centre trial. Our cities will face enormous security problems, and our communities will be potential targets for attack," he said.
Other politicians appeared to waste no time locating a camera to respond to Holder's decisions.
On her Facebook page, former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote a post Friday titled, "Obama Administration's Atrocious Decision".
"Horrible decision, absolutely horrible," she wrote. Palin expressed concern that the alleged mastermind "may walk away from this trial without receiving just punishment because of a 'hung jury' or from any variety of courtroom technicalities. If we are stuck with this terrible Obama Administration decision, I, like most Americans, hope that Mohammed and his co-conspirators are convicted. Hang 'em high."
President Barack Obama, on an Asian trip, said in Tokyo, "This is a prosecutorial decision as well as a national security decision. Here's the thing that I will say: I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist on it.''
Families of those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks also expressed mixed emotions about the New York trials.
Military Families United, a Washington-based advocacy group, said, "This decision is a victory for those who perpetrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not the American people... The Sept. 11 accomplices will now receive many of the same constitutional rights and privileges as ordinary Americans.''
But families represented by Kristin Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the World Trade Centre attack and who helped push for the establishment of the 9/11 Commission, says New York is ready. She says she plans to attend the trial as often as she can.