Administration ready to cave on NYC terror trials?

Justice Department looking at alternate places to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, others, after political pressure

By Alex Koppelman
Published January 29, 2010 2:40PM (EST)

Less than three months after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other high profile terror suspects would be moved from Guantanamo Bay to stand trial in federal court in New York City, that decision might be reversed. The Justice Department is reportedly looking into alternate sites.

This decision started to seem inevitable as political pressure over the trials has built up in recent weeks. It's one thing for Congressional Republicans to make hay out of the issue -- the administration must surely have anticipated that -- but it's gone beyond that.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, normally a solid ally of President Obama's, had initially supported the plan. Now he's essentially come out against it. Other Democrats, too, have publicly expressed their opposition, including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. David Paterson, who'd already announced his position but reiterated it this week with the issue back in the news. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a Thursday interview, "The dynamic has changed. The administration should listen to the mayor and the mayor's concerns and candidly make a change."

Even Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall has publicly expressed his doubts. And the rationale he cited makes sense: It's not about the trial itself, or about security concerns so much as the incredible security that will most likely be employed, which will cost a fantastic amount and likely pose a headache for city residents.

This doesn't mean the administration is backing down entirely on the issue of holding the trials in civilian courts in the mainland U.S. Right now, it appears that the most likely solution will be to move the proceedings from Manhattan, perhaps to elsewhere in New York or to Virginia, where other terror trials have been held.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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