Officials say the Obama administration is considering moving the trial of the accused 9/11 mastermind out of lower Manhattan.
Two administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday the Justice Department is drawing up plans for possible alternate locations to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices.
The two officials are speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that the trial would be held in Manhattan federal court, generating stiff opposition in Congress and in New York.
The officials did not say where else the trial might be held, but others have suggested an unpopulated island near Manhattan, or nearby military installations.
A leading House Republican turned up the heat on the Obama administration Friday to cancel plans to put self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial later this year in New York City.
Embracing a position that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken, Rep. Mike Pence said Friday it is “a terrible idea to return the mastermind of 9/11 to the scene of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.” The Indiana Republican commented on ABC’s “Good Morning America” a day after Bloomberg appealed to Attorney General Eric Holder to reconsider the prosecutorial strategy.
Pence said he believes some congressional Democrats will join Republicans in seeking legislation to block funding for security-related costs if the administration doesn’t back down.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Thursday he has introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of Justice Department funds to try Guantanamo detainees in federal civilian courts. Hours later, New York Gov. David Paterson said he wants discussion with federal officials on the issue of venue.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others would be tried in federal court in lower Manhattan.
Bloomberg said he called Holder to lobby for moving the trial outside lower Manhattan. They spoke Thursday afternoon; both sides declined to comment afterward.
Bloomberg initially supported the Manhattan trial decision, declaring: “It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site, where so many New Yorkers were murdered.”
But the mayor this week reversed from what he said in November, when the administration announced its plans.
“Unless the administration comes to its senses and abandons this absurd idea,” Pence said Friday, “the Republicans, and I suspect some Democrats, will abandon funding.”
In addition, six senators on Tuesday wrote to Holder and urged him to abandon the idea.
The letter read, in part, “You will be providing them one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism.”
It was signed by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut; John McCain, Republican of Arizona; Blanche L. Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas; Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine; Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia; and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
Paterson said that although he’s certain New York City will be safe, he thinks there should be a discussion with federal officials over whether to move the trial.