Will The 9/11 Mastermind Ever Face Trial?

The Washington Post reports Obama is preparing to abandon Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial plans

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Ever since top al-Qaeda figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, often described as the "mastermind" of the Sept. 11 attacks, was arrested in 2003, the U.S. has struggled to determine his fate. After he spent years at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration came into office pledging that KSM would be sent to civilian court. But the decision to try him in New York City, announced a full year ago, drew widespread and immediate controversy, scuttling the plans. The Obama administration has also appeared hesitant to pursue military tribunals, which are legally dubious, largely untested, and have proven much more difficult forums to secure convictions. Now it appears unclear if the terrorist leader will ever face trial. Here's what we know and what observers say it means.

  • Obama Preparing to Drop Trial Plans Forever  The Washington Post's Peter Finn and Anne Kornblut report that KSM "will probably remain in military detention without trial for the foreseeable future, according to Obama administration officials. The administration has concluded that it cannot put Mohammed on trial in federal court because of the opposition of lawmakers in Congress and in New York. There is also little internal support for resurrecting a military prosecution at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
  • Suggests Gitmo Will Likely Stay Open  The Hill's Michael O'Brien explains, "President Obama ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for suspected terrorists shortly after taking office. But the administration hasn't been able to identify any alternative detention centers, and the U.S. hasn't been able to follow through on Obama's order. With Republicans retaking control of the House, the political pressure against moving the suspects is only likely to grow more intense, making a determination of Mohammed and other suspects' fate more difficult."
  • Obama Admin Refusing to Lead  Liberal national security blogger Spencer Ackerman writes, "There’s basically a no-decision here: administration officials feel buffeted between conservative opposition to a civilian trial and liberal opposition to military commissions. Aww, poor them! So the alternative choice is to stall. ... And that’s the maddening thing. The Obama team talks about a 'different political environment' as if it has nothing to do with creating one. ... Well, then make a case, and make it consistently. Build support and maintain it. Be willing to stake political capital on it. Or concede that you never meant what you said about justice."
  • Why This Is So Galling  Liberal national security blogger Marcy Wheeler fumes, "Obviously, it's a further spineless capitulation on Obama’s part. It’s a concession, too, that all you have to do to eliminate the rule of law in this country is squawk in Congress and on Fox News. It also serves as a guarantee that the 2001 [Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force] declaring war against the now-50 al Qaeda members who had something to do with 9/11 will last forever–or at least for the rest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s life."
  • Vindication for Bush  Conservative bloggers are unsurprisingly happy about this decision. Power Line's John Hinderaker beams, "George W. Bush must be enjoying his book tour. It seems as though every day brings another headline vindicating one aspect or another of his presidency; or, at least, indicating how intractable were the issues with which his administration grappled. ... Personally, I'd be fine with just shooting KSM, but the Obama administration prefers to echo the Bush administration's position on detention of terrorists."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.