Let's get it on!
Admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four al Qaeda co-conspirators are headed to Manhattan to face a civilian trial in federal court -- and a possible death sentence -- just blocks from hallowed Ground Zero.
Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday said the five terror thugs will be shipped from the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they had been facing a military commission for the evil plot that slaughtered nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.
Holder's decision immediately was met with praise by supporters of civilian trials for terrorists. But it also drew howls from others who argue that military commissions are the right place to deal with fiends engaged in attacks on America -- and that trying them in a civilian court in lower Manhattan will put the city at great risk.
"After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice," said Holder. "I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years. I also want to assure the American people that we will prosecute these cases vigorously, and we will pursue the maximum punishment available.
"I fully expect to direct prosecutors to seek the death penalty against each of the alleged 9/11 conspirators."
At the same time, Holder said that five other detainees at Guantanamo, among them a main suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, will be tried before a military commission.
Speaking before Holder's announcement, President Obama said, "I'm absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice."
"The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it."
It will be well over a month -- at minimum -- before Mohammed and the other four defendants are flown from Gitmo to New York. They will be housed in the ultra-high-security 10th-floor south wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, next to the federal courthouse a half-mile from Ground Zero.
Under federal law, the Justice Department must give Congress 45 days notice and file a report before transporting Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
In the meantime, prosecutors will prepare evidence to present to a grand jury here.
"I support the Obama administration's decision to prosecute 9/11 terrorists here in New York," said Mayor Bloomberg.
"It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site, where so many New Yorkers were murdered. We have hosted terrorism trials before, including the trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing."
"New York City stands ready to assist the federal court in the administration of justice in any way necessary."
Former Manhattan US Attorney David Kelley said Holder's decision is "great."
"The Southern District [of New York] has demonstrated that they've handled these cases before. They've had a successful track record," said Kelley, who prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case and multiple other terror cases in the district.
"They've been sitting in jail for eight years. Eight years has demonstrated that [the government doesn't] know how else to handle this in a way that will have the respect and confidence not only of the public here, but of the global community."
But Gov. Paterson told WPIX/Channel 11 in an interview that "I do not understand" why Mohammed and the other four evildoers are not being tried in Guantanamo Bay.
"It's an added security risk" to have their case tried in New York, Paterson said. "We are still in a vulnerable situation here in New York and I made that clear to the attorney general when he called six months ago."
US Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) called the decision "an unnecessary risk" that could result in the disclosure of classified information, citing the Manhattan federal court trial of the "blind sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman as a case where "valuable information about US intelligence and methods" was revealed to al Qaeda.
And Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles Burlingame was murdered while piloting the plane that hijackers then used to crash into the Pentagon, said, "We have a president who doesn't know we're at war."
She said she was disgusted by "the prospect of these barbarians being turned into victims by their attorneys."
That's a possibility because Mohammed had been subjected to now-banned waterboarding. He was dealt the harsh treatment a staggering 183 times in 2003 when he was being interrogated about how he orchestrated 9/11 for Osama bin Laden.
Defense lawyers could cite that coercion of him and the other defendants to argue that the entire case should be tossed out on the grounds that the evidence is inadmissible under the rules of a civilian criminal court.
"Obviously, there are issues out there with Khalid Sheik Mohammed. We know the nature of the interrogation is going to create issues," said Gerald Zerkin, a federal public defender in Richmond, Va., who defended "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui.
Another possible monkey wrench in trying the five defendants is their desire to act as their own lawyers.
Mohammed and two other defendants -- Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali -- had been representing themselves in military proceedings in Guantanamo, albeit under the observation of teams of both military and civilian defense lawyers. The other two defendants -- Waleed bin Attash and Ramzi Binalshibh -- had been trying to get permission to fire their own legal teams.
It is not known if the five men now will try to represent themselves in Manhattan federal court, or accept lawyers appointed by the trial judge.
The suspected terrorists set to be tried:
KHALID SHEIK MOHAMMED Baluchistan province, Pakistan
- Mastermind of 9/11 attacks, proposed idea to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996
- Planned aborted "Operation Bojinka" with his nephew Ramzi Yousef to blow up 12 planes flying between US and Asia during one day
- Sent al Qaeda operative Richard Reid on failed mission to explode a trans-Atlantic jet with a shoe bomb
- Decapitated Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan
- Provided funding for 1993 World Trade Center bombing
WALEED BIN ATTASH Yemen
- Ran al Qaeda training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two 9/11 hijackers were trained
- Believed to have been bin Laden's bodyguard
ALI ABD AL-AZIZ ALI Baluchistan province, Pakistan
- Helped nine 9/11 hijackers travel to US and sent them $120,000 for expenses and flight training
- Believed to have been Khalid Sheik Mohammed's lieutenant in Pakistan
MUSTAFA AHMAD AL-HAWSAWI Saudi Arabia
- Helped the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler's checks and credit cards
RAMZI BINALSHIBH Yemen
- Helped find flight schools for the hijackers, aided their entering US and assisted with financing the operation
- Believed to be a lead operative for foiled plot to crash aircraft into London's Heathrow Airport