WASHINGTON, Nov 13 – The accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks and four of his suspected co-plotters will be tried in a civilian court in New York, a military lawyer told AFP on Friday.
Attorney General Eric Holder was expected to formally announce later that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others, currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, will face trial in the Southern District of New York.
The trial will be held not far from Ground Zero, once the site of the World Trade Centre destroyed by two hijacked planes in the September 11 attacks.
Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks which also hit the Pentagon, while another plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when the passengers overpowered the hijackers.
Two other Guantanamo detainees are expected to face trial before military commissions, the lawyer involved with the military tribunals in Guantanamo said, asking to remain anonymous.
One of those facing a military commission is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the 2000 USS Cole bombing, the New York Times said, citing a federal law enforcement source. Profiles of alleged 9/11 plotters.
President Barack Obama had pledged to inform a Guantanamo military judge by Monday whether to try the men before US federal courts or military tribunals – a decision central to his plans to close the controversial facility.
Asked about the move during a trip to Tokyo, Obama said the Justice Department would make an announcement later in the day, calling it a "prosecutorial decision as well as a national security decision."
"I am absolutely convinced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice," Obama said.
The decision is not expected to affect the vast majority of the 215 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay, the controversial off-shore prison which Obama had pledged to close by January 22.
Senior officials have already acknowledged the Obama administration is unlikely to meet the deadline to close the prison that the president set just two days after taking office.
The decisions on Mohammed and his co-defendants – Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Walid bin Attash and Mustapha al-Hawsawi – came amid reports that White House counsel Gregory Craig, who had been charged with finding a way to close the prison, will announce his resignation on Friday.
He is expected to be replaced by Obama’s personal attorney, prominent Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer.
Ten detainees already face charges before the military commissions, proceedings that were halted at the administration’s request while a change of venue was considered, but would resume if Monday’s deadline goes unheeded.
Three prisoners have been convicted before military commissions, but the tribunals have been widely condemned for limiting defendants’ rights and attracted criticism from the US Supreme Court in a 2006 ruling that forced an overhaul of the process.
Despite the criticism, the Obama administration has indicated it will maintain the system established during former president George W. Bush’s tenure.
To mollify critics, the White House and lawmakers worked together on a bill passed in late October that boosted defendants’ rights.
The legislation barred the use of evidence obtained through coercion, strengthened the rules on hearsay evidence and improved defendants’ access to witnesses and evidence, even when classified.