Obama increases role in 9/11 trials

President Barack Obama is taking a greater role in determining where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried after resistance has grown on Capitol Hill to holding the trial in New York.

“Obviously there are efforts on Capitol Hill through legislation to restrict the venue of [Mohammed] and his co-conspirators and that, by definition, involves the White House,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters during a Friday briefing.

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In recent weeks, Democrats have begun jumping onto Republicans bills in the House and Senate that would bar any funds from being spent to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in civilian court, an attempt to force the administration to try the suspects before military commissions.

Gibbs said members of the White House legislative affairs office may have been making calls testing the waters on Capitol Hill in recent days after New York officials expressed concern about the security and logistical costs of trying Mohammed there.

Obama still has not ruled out holding the trials in New York, Gibbs said. Nor is he strictly opposed to trying the alleged terrorists in military court instead of the civilian trial originally planned for New York City.

“There are a series of things being looked at,” Gibbs said.

Attorney General Eric Holder also is leaving open the possibility of trying Mohammed before a military commission, The Washington Post reported Friday.

“At the end of the day, wherever this case is tried, in whatever forum, what we have to ensure is that it’s done as transparently as possible with adherence to all the rules,” he told the Post. “If we do that, I’m not sure the location or even the forum is as important as what the world sees in that proceeding."

Neither Holder nor Gibbs addressed whether Obama’s involvement in the decision extends to where all the remaining detainees held at Guantanamo Bay will be tried. House Republicans, such as Reps. Pete King (N.Y.) and Frank Wolf (Va.), are pushing a measure that would deny funding for trying all terrorism suspects in civilian courts. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) have co-sponsored a bill that would prevent any money from being spent to move 9/11 terrorism suspects to the U.S. for civilian trials.

Earlier this week, King said he would try to add the language to the intelligence authorization bill, which could be taken up as early as late February when Congress returns to work.

King, on Friday, testified at a New York City Council hearing on the Obama administration’s original plan to try Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and four of his co-conspirators in Manhattan.

During the hearing, King called Obama’s decision to try Mohammed and the others in New York federal court “one of the most irresponsible decisions ever made by any president.”