In a move both politically and legally risky, the Obama administration plans to put on trial the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and four alleged accomplices in a lower Manhattan courthouse.
The venue for the biggest trial in the age of terrorism means prosecutors must balance difficult issues such as rough treatment of detainees and sensitive intelligence-gathering with the Justice Department’s desire to prove that the federal courts are able to handle terrorism cases.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision Friday to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to trial in a courtroom barely a thousand yards from the site of the World Trade Center’s twin towers they are accused of destroying.
Trying the men in civilian court will bar evidence obtained under duress and complicate a case where anything short of slam-dunk convictions will empower President Barack Obama’s critics. U.S. civilian courts prohibit evidence obtained through coercion, and a number of detainees were questioned using harsh methods some call torture.