WASHINGTON – Pressured by a growing clamor from New York, the Obama administration appears likely to move the trial of Sept. 11 terror suspects away from Manhattan, where it had been scheduled to take place just blocks from the site of the twin towers attack.
The city’s top police official says he thinks the trial won’t take place anywhere in the city.
The Justice Department is drawing up plans for possible alternate locations to try professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in case Congress or local officials prevent the trial from being held in Manhattan, two administration officials said Friday.
Though the officials wouldn’t discuss locations under consideration, others have suggested Governors Island, a former military base in New York Harbor that now welcomes summertime picnickers and bike riders; the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; or Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y.
Published reports Friday said the administration had abandoned plans to hold the trial in New York City. Administration officials told the Associated Press they have not ruled out holding the trial somewhere in the city other than the Manhattan federal courthouse, but they privately acknowledge they have not found an acceptable alternative venue there.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters Friday that a backlash had made it “unlikely” the case would go forward in the city. He said plans to hold the trial there started to unravel after a speech he gave recently detailing the enormous costs and logistical challenges of ensuring security at the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan.
“It is obvious that they can’t have the trials in New York,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Criticism of the plan, which had been announced by Attorney General Eric Holder last year, reached a crescendo this week when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his earlier support. On his weekly radio show Friday, Bloomberg said he had spoken with “high level” people in the Obama administration about his concerns and they were “trying to do something.”
New York Gov. David Paterson said he was “elated that our concerns are being considered by the president and the federal government.” He had said earlier this week that if the cases went forward in the city, “Every time there is a loud noise during the two years of those trials it’s going to frighten people, and I think New Yorkers have been through enough.”
In a letter sent to the White House Friday, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said the terrorist threat to the U.S. remains high and New York is a prime target. The trial of the most significant terrorist in custody would only add to the threat, she wrote.