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Sept. 11 Suspects To Be Tried In U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

The alleged mastermind of the September 11th attacks will be brought to the city where the World Trade Center once stood. The Justice Department will place Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in New York. Prosecutors will also try four other suspects linked to the attacks.

INSKEEP: They will all be tried in the Southern District of New York. That district includes lower Manhattan, the area filled with smoke and ashes on 9/11.

NPRs Dina Temple-Raston is covering this story. Dina, Good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Whats the plan here?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they are going to be moved from Guantanamo to New York, these five men. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators of the 9/11 attacks. And sources tell us that the Attorney General, Eric Holder, has decided that they all should be tried in regular U.S. Federal Court, and then all five men should stand trial in, as you said, the Southern District of New York which is in Manhattan.

INSKEEP: So the decision is to go with a civilian trial rather than a military commission or military trial of some kind. Why do this now?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they didnt have much choice, to be frank. A military trial was already underway for these five in Guantanamo Bay. And then the administration had asked for a delay, because they wanted to decide whether they wanted to move suspects into the civilian court, and they only had until Monday to tell the judge what they decided. So the clock was ticking.

INSKEEP: Well now Dina, it certainly makes emotional sense to try this case in New York City where the most deadly of the attacks happened, but there must have been other options of prosecutors wanted them; like Virginia where the Pentagon was or Pennsylvania where one of the planes went down. Why New York?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there were a lot of different U.S. attorneys who were vying for these cases, but there were some practical reasons to send it to the Southern District. I mean, the feeling is that in New York and specifically that federal court, theyve done a lot of these kind of complicated terrorism cases before.

Theres a grand jury in the Southern District that has already indicted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for another terrorism plot. Back in 1996, he was implicated in a plan to explode 12 commercial jets over the Pacific. Thats known as the Bojinka Plot and a federal jury in New York brought the indictment against him. And now, conceivably, the 9/11 charges could be added to that. Thats what sources are telling us could happen, though prosecutors could simply ask a grand jury to bring a new indictment against him, and maybe an indictment for all five men together.

INSKEEP: And I suppose, we should also mention the Southern District of New York is also working on the case of another Guantanamo detainee.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly, yes. It is an Tanzanian named Ahmed Guilani, and he has been charged in the East Africa Embassy bombings. And his trial is supposed to start next fall, September 2010.

INSKEEP: Dina Temple-Raston, is there going to be political resistance to this decision to bring accused 9/11 terrorists into the United States?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, there already has been. There are tempers on both sides of the aisle. Some members of Congress believe that this will harm national security. Others just dont want these guys in the U.S. So theyre going to have to deal with that as they push for these trials. You know, theyre supposed to be a 45-day notification period. Basically, theyre going to have to tell members of Congress who are going to have to accept these guys 45 days in advance when theyre coming, and that could allow them to ramp up some opposition.

INSKEEP: And let me just ask about an even tougher issue here, because this is an issue to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on trial in a civilian court. An American court with American civilian rules, and this is a man who was waterboarded 183 times. What difficulties are raised by bringing in a man to a civilian court when some of the evidence against him would appear to have been obtained by torture?

TEMPLE-RASTON: No, you are exactly right. And this is one of the really big issues here, although in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he actually admitted, before being tortured, that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. So that makes him slightly different than some of these other detainees who have been tortured, who maybe only admitted to something after they were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture.

INSKEEP: So so, prosecutor are going to be saying, we waterboarded this man, or someone waterboarded this man, the U.S. waterboarded this man to get evidence about other accused terrorists about al-Qaida, but he actually, before that, admitted to the crime with which we are trying him here. Thats what theyll say.

TEMPLE-RASTON: I assume thats what theyll say, and of course, the defense will say, the fact that he was tortured at all is a mitigating circumstance that - that changes the game. But thats what will be argued out in the trial, I think.

INSKEEP: Now, you're also following the decision about yet another accused terrorist. What have you learned about him?

TEMPLE-RASTON: This is a man named Abd al-Nashiri. He was the accused mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole. Remember, that was the Navy ship that was attacked in Yemen in 2000. He has been described by the U.S. government as a 15-year associate of Osama bin Laden and a mastermind of various attacks at sea. And the Justice Department is going to announce, we understand, later today, that he will be tried in a military commission for the bombing of the USS Cole. You remember, 17 U.S. sailors died in that attack.

INSKEEP: Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. And, again, the news here: we have one man accused in the bombing of the USS Cole who will be tried before a military commission. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center attacks and four others linked to those attacks will be tried in civilian court in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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