While the Justice Department is planning a military trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and alleged co-conspirators, President Obama still says the proceedings should have taken place in New York City.
“I remain convinced we could have handled this in New York,” Obama told the Associated Press in an interview. “We could have handled it in a normal court.”
Obama also told AP he would to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay where KSM and others are being held, but he did not make a firm commitment to do so.
Asked if Gitmo would be closed during his presidency — a campaign pledge he made in 2008 — Obama said: “I still believe it should be closed. I still believe that it is a symbol of our past efforts that, sincere as they were, ended up cutting some corners in terms of our commitment to due process and our commitment to rule of law.”
Note the word “should.”
The comments come after the 1:55 mark of the video, following a discussion of Libya and Afghanistan.
Obama has been unable to close Gitmo for a couple of reasons. One is that other countries don’t want to take prisoners who are housed there. Another is that congressional lawmakers don’t want the terrorism suspects moved here, or tried in the United States — as illustrated by the story of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Local lawmakers objected vehemently to the administration’s initial plan to try KSM and others in federal court in New York City. The administration recently announced it would hold a military trial at Gitmo after all.
In his AP interview, Obama said:
I know that it’s a very emotional issue for folks. But one of the things — I was speaking to a group, and somebody from New York asked me about this issue because of Attorney General Holder’s decision to try KSM — Mohammed — who was the planner of 9/11.
And they said, we’re glad you’re not doing it in New York. And I said it was important for us to make a decision to go ahead and prosecute this guy — it’s been 10 years now, the families deserve justice. But I’m — I remain convinced we could have handled this in New York. We could have handled it in a normal court.
I think it’s very important for us not to elevate folks who are murderers and thugs into something special. Our criminal justice system is — and our trial system is capable of prosecuting terrorists. We’ve done it before; we can do it again. And I think that we do a disservice to the cause of America’s security when we elevate these guys into some special category. They’re just a bunch of people who had no regard for human life and are willing to kill people, and we’ve got to go after them with everything we can …
AP: The premise of the question, though, was about closing Guantanamo while you’re President. You said you would like to do it —
OBAMA: Well, look, there’s no doubt that — we’re not going to do it right now. And the reason is, is that members of Congress feel very strongly that we shouldn’t and there are a lot of people who are afraid of the possibilities of bringing some of these individuals to the continental United States.
It’s my job to give people some assurance that we can handle this effectively, and obviously I haven’t been able to make the case right now, and without Congress’s cooperation we can’t do it. That doesn’t mean I stop making the case.