Biden: Obama Will Make Final Call on 9/11 Trial - NBC New York

Biden: Obama Will Make Final Call on 9/11 Trial



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    In this image from video released by NBC, Vice President Joe Biden appears from Vancouver, Canada, on "Meet the Press" in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. Pingponging across the airwaves, Vice President Joe Biden and predecessor Cheney bickered Sunday over terror trials and interrogations. Biden called Cheney "misinformed or he is misinforming" on current national security strategies. (AP Photo/NBC, William Plowman) **FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO ARCHIVES, NO SALES **

    Vice President Joe Biden says he has no doubts that professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be found guilty -- whether in a civilian or military courtroom.

    But it's not clear where Mohammed and the four other Sept. 11 suspects now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be tried.

    Biden tells NBC's "Meet the Press" he hasn't ruled out a military tribunal for Mohammed. Biden says that's less preferable than a civilian trial, but that President Barack Obama will make the final decision.

    He called a military tribunal the "less preferential" way of trying the suspects but said "one way or another" they will be held accountable.

    Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that a trial would take place in federal court in New York City. But city officials oppose the idea because of security and logistical concerns. And there's now a move in the Senate to try to stop any Guantanamo detainees from being brought to the United States for a civilian trial.

    Both Attorney General Holder and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not rule out a military trial when asked Friday about the Obama administration's options.

    Trying Mohammed in military court would mark a further political retreat from Holder's announcement last year that Mohammed and the four other Sept. 11 suspects now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be tried in federal court.

    "These al-Qaida terrorists are not common criminals,'' Republican Sen. Graham said Saturday in the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address. "A civilian trial of hard-core terrorists is unnecessarily dangerous and creates more problems than it solves.''

    At stake is the public perception of the administration's handling of national security, already shaken last year by strong congressional opposition to transferring any Guantanamo detainees to American soil. A Hill defeat over the trial issue could embolden the GOP minority to raise national security concerns in the midterm elections later this year.

    "Military tribunals are the best way to render justice, win this war and protect our nation from a vicious enemy,'' said Graham.

    The prospect of such a vote could test of how many moderate Democrats have abandoned Obama on the issue.

    White House officials said Friday that Obama and his top advisers will play a direct role in ultimately deciding how to prosecute Mohammed. The administration initially decided to try the five terror defendants in New York but have since appeared to backtrack.

    "Obviously there are efforts on Capitol Hill through legislation to restrict either the type of or the venue of a trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators,'' Gibbs said. "That, by definition, involves the White House and ultimately the president.''

    "So, since this effort has moved from strictly a Justice Department decision to something that's in the legislative arena, the White House -- and by definition the president -- are involved.''

    As a result of Holder's decision to seek a civilian prosecution, Bush-era military charges that had been pending against the five suspects were dismissed last month. Those military charges could now be revived.

    The administration is reconsidering Holder's plan to put the five men on trial in a federal court in Manhattan, after local officials there balked at security and logistics complications.

    The White House insisted it is sensitive to their concerns.

    "We're going to take into account security and logistical concerns that those individuals now have,'' Gibbs said. "The cost of the trial, obviously, is one thing.''

    The administration has been on the defensive about its record on terrorism since a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up an airliner landing in Detroit on Christmas. The suspect faces charges in federal court, but Republicans say the Democratic administration should treat such suspects not as criminals but war criminals.

    Administration officials counter that the Christmas case was handled no differently than the Bush administration had handled similar earlier cases.