White House reconsiders holding terror trials in civilian court
Suspected Sept. 11 plotters may be tried before military tribunals after all, administration officials say. Holding the trials in civilian court is deemed 'politically untenable.'
By Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons
March 5, 2010 | 9:17 p.m.
Reporting from Washington - The White House is considering an end to its effort to prosecute the suspected Sept. 11 plotters in a civilian court and may send them instead before military tribunals, in an apparent retreat from President Obama's pledge to overhaul the Bush administration's detention policies.
Last year, the Obama administration announced it would try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others in federal court in New York. That step came after Obama overhauled interrogation policies and ordered the shutdown of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But safety concerns about the trial have grown, and support for holding the trial in New York has eroded.
"It is politically untenable," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because a decision had not been made. "No place wants to hold a trial."
A return to military commissions, as the tribunals are known, would be a major concession to Republicans. And administration officials appear to be using the potential shift as a down payment on a political deal to speed the closure of the Guantanamo prison by allowing the federal government to purchase an Illinois prison to transfer detainees.
A formal recommendation has not yet been made to Obama, and an administration official said a decision remains weeks away. Still, the idea, first reported in the Washington Post, represents a trial balloon to test how the administration's reversal would be received by liberals and conservatives.