Obama: 9/11 mastermind will be convicted

WASHINGTON - November 18, 2009

In one of a series of TV interviews during his trip to Asia, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Muhammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Obama quickly added that he did not mean to suggest he was prejudging the outcome of Mohammed's trial. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."

In interviews broadcast on NBC and CNN Wednesday, the president also said that experienced prosecutors in the case who specialize in terrorism have offered assurances that "we'll convict this person with the evidence they've got, going through our system."

Obama said the American people should have no concern about the capability of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. Attorney General Eric Holder last week announced the decision to bring Mohammed and four others detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to trial at a lower Manhattan courthouse.

Holder sought to explain U.S. prosecution strategy in remarks prepared for delivery later Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers are likely to spar over his decision last week to send Mohammed and four alleged henchmen from a detention center at Guantanamo Bay to New York to face a civilian federal trial in New York.

Critics of Holder's decision - mostly Republicans - have argued the trial will give Mohammed a world stage to spout hateful rhetoric.

In his prepared remarks, Holder said such concerns are misplaced, because judges can control unruly defendants and any pronouncements by Mohammed would only make him look worse.

"I have every confidence the nation and the world will see him for the coward he is," Holder says in a written version of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "I'm not scared of what (Mohammed) will have to say at trial - and no one else needs to be either."

Holder says the public and the nation's intelligence secrets can be protected during a public trial in civilian court.

"We need not cower in the face of this enemy," Holder says. "Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."

Holder announced Friday that five accused Sept. 11 conspirators currently held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be transferred to federal court in Manhattan to face trial - just blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Five other suspects, Holder said, will be sent to face justice before military commissions in the United States, though a location for those commissions has not yet been determined.

The actual transfer of the suspects to New York is still many weeks away. The transfers are a key step in Obama's pledge to close the detention center at Guantanamo, which currently houses some 215 detainees. The administration is not expected to meet its January deadline to shutter the facility.

The president echoed Holder's comments about the New York trial.

"I think this notion that we have to be fearful that these terrorists possess some special powers that prevent us from presenting evidence against them, locking them up and exacting swift justice, I think that has been a fundamental mistake," Obama said in an interview with CNN.

In addition to the 10 detainees named Friday, Holder is expected to send others to trials and commissions in the United States.

Another, larger group of detainees is expected to be released to other countries. Some, the president has said, are too dangerous to be released and cannot be put on trial, and those detainees will continue to be imprisoned.

The attorney general says his decisions between trials and commissions were based strictly on which venues he thought would bring the strongest prosecution.

Opponents of the plan, including Holder's predecessor Michael Mukasey, have accused him of adopting a "pre-9/11" approach to terrorism.

Holder emphatically denies that.

"We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power - civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and others - to win," Holder says.

Separately, a member of the Judiciary Committee, Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, is urging the administration to reimburse the city for what he says could be $75 million in extra security costs related to the terror trials.

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