Obama Reverses Course: No Civilian Trial for 9/11 Plotters

Washington – In an about face on the day President Barack Obama announced his re-election bid, a U.S. official said Monday that Attorney General Eric Holder will order military trials at Guantanamo for confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged co-plotters now held there for the mass murder of thousands on Sept. 11, 2001.

An official announcement is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Washington.

Holder had sought to try the five men in civilian court in Manhattan, a move that produced an outcry from politicians and some 9/11 families who feared that the alleged al Qaida insiders would turn the case into a forum forpromoting their cause.

Why Holder reversed course was not immediately clear. Congress has passed legilsation forbidding civilian trials for the men and new legislation would make it even more difficult to move the men to a federal jurisdiction. Some evidence experts have also suggested that the case could be tried more easily at the war court in southeast Cuba before a military judge and jury because CIA agents had waterboarded Mohammed secretly overseas before transferring him to Guantanamo.

Changes in the way military commissions are conducted also might move the cases more quickly because the men might be permitted to plead guilty to orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration had sought the death penalty soon after the transfer of Mohammed and four other men from years of secret custody and interrogations by the CIA in September 2006.

Whatever the reason for the change, it was a huge about-face by Obama, a former constitutional law professor. As a senator and candidate he condemned the military commissions and then worked as a president to reform them.

At Guantanamo, where President George Bush sent the 9/11 plotters for trial, Mohammed, 45, bragged to a military panel that he masterminded “from A to Z” the four aircraft hijackings that struck the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Then, at an earlier effort to try him at military commissions, Mohammed fired his attorneys and sought to orchestrate a group guilty plea for himself and four others.