Attorney General Announces Forum Decisions for Guantanamo Detainees
November 14, 2009
Attorney General Announces Forum Decisions for Guantanamo Detainees ~ Friday, November 13, 2009 http://www.justice.gov/ag/speeches/2009/ag-speech-091113.html
Good morning. Just over eight years ago, on a morning our nation will never forget, nineteen hijackers working with a network of Al Qaeda conspirators around the world launched the deadliest terrorist attacks our country has ever seen. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in those attacks, and in the years since, our nation has had no higher priority than bringing those who planned and plotted the attacks to justice.
One year before, in October 2000, a terrorist attack on the USS Cole killed seventeen American sailors.
Today we announce a step forward in bringing those we believe were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the attack on the USS Cole to justice.
Five detainees at Guantanamo have been charged before military commissions with participation in the 9/11 plot: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammed Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi. Those proceedings have been stayed since February, as have the proceedings pending in military commissions against four other detainees accused of different crimes. A case in military commissions against the alleged mastermind of the Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was withdrawn in February.
For the past several months, prosecutors at the Department of Justice have been working diligently with prosecutors from the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions to review the case of each detainee at Guantanamo who has been referred for prosecution. Over the past few weeks, I have personally reviewed these cases, and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, have made determinations about the prosecution of ten detainees now held at Guantanamo, including those charged in the 9/11 plot and the alleged mastermind of the Cole bombing.
Today, I am announcing that the Department of Justice will pursue prosecution in federal court of the five individuals accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks. Further, I have decided to refer back to the Department of Defense five defendants to face military commission trials, including the detainee who was previously charged in the USS Cole bombing.
The 9/11 cases that will be pursued in federal court have been jointly assigned to prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia and will be brought in Manhattan in the Southern District of New York. After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood.
I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years. The alleged 9/11 conspirators will stand trial in our justice system before an impartial jury under long-established rules and procedures.
I also want to assure the American people that we will prosecute these cases vigorously, and we will pursue the maximum punishment available. These were extraordinary crimes and so we will seek maximum penalties. Federal rules allow us to seek the death penalty for capital offenses, and while we will review the evidence and circumstances following established protocols, I fully expect to direct prosecutors to seek the death penalty against each of the alleged 9/11 conspirators.
In his speech at the National Archives in May, the President called for the reform of military commissions to ensure that they are a lawful, fair, and effective prosecutorial forum. The reforms Congress recently adopted to the Military Commissions Act ensure that military commission trials will be fair and that convictions obtained will be secure.
I know that the Department of Defense is absolutely committed to ensuring that military commission trials will be consistent with our highest standards as a nation, and our civilian prosecutors will continue to work closely with military prosecutors to support them in that effort.
In each case, my decision as to whether to proceed in federal courts or military commissions was based on a protocol that the Departments of Justice and Defense developed and that was announced in July. Because many cases could be prosecuted in either federal courts or military commissions, that protocol sets forth a number of factors – including the nature of the offense, the location in which the offense occurred, the identity of the victims, and the manner in which the case was investigated – that must be considered. In consultation with the Secretary of Defense, I looked at all the relevant factors and made case by case decisions for each detainee.
It is important that we be able to use every forum possible to hold terrorists accountable for their actions. Just as a sustained campaign against terrorism requires a combination of intelligence, law enforcement and military operations, so must our legal efforts to bring terrorists to justice involve both federal courts and reformed military commissions. I want to thank the members of Congress, including Senators Lindsay Graham, Carl Levin and John McCain who worked so hard to strengthen our national security by helping us pass legislation to reform the military commission system.
We will continue to draw on the Pentagon's support as we bring cases against the alleged 9-11 conspirators in federal court. The Justice Department has a long, successful history of prosecuting terrorists for their crimes against our nation, particularly in New York. Although these cases can often be complex and challenging, federal prosecutors have successfully met these challenges and have convicted a number of terrorists who are now serving lengthy sentences in our prisons. And although the security issues presented by terrorism cases should never be minimized, our marshals, court security officers, and prison officials have extensive experience and training dealing with dangerous defendants, and I am confident they can meet the security challenges posed by this case.
These detainees will not be transferred to the United States for prosecution until all legal requirements are satisfied, including those in recent legislation requiring a 45 day notice and report to the Congress. I have already spoken to Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg and am committed to working closely with them to ensure that all security and related concerns are properly addressed. I have every confidence that we can safely hold these trials in New York, as we have so many previous terrorism trials.
For the many Americans who lost friends and relatives in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and on the USS Cole, nothing can bring those loved ones back. But they deserve the opportunity to see the alleged plotters of those attacks held accountable in court, an opportunity that has been too long delayed. Today's announcements mark a significant step forward in our efforts to close Guantanamo and to bring to justice those individuals who have conspired to attack our nation and our interests abroad.
For over two hundred years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims. Once again we will ask our legal system, in two venues, to rise to that challenge. I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice.http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2009/November/09-ag-1224.html
WASHINGTON – The Departments of Justice and Defense today announced forum decisions for ten detainees at Guantanamo Bay whose cases were previously charged in military commissions, including five detainees accused of conspiring to commit the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and a detainee accused of orchestrating the attack on the USS Cole.
"Today we announce a step forward in bringing those we believe were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the attack on the USS Cole to justice," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "For over two hundred years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims. Once again we will ask our legal system to rise to that challenge, and I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice."
"Bringing terrorists to justice is an integral part of our national security," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "The reform of Military Commissions and today's announcement are important steps in that direction."
The Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, has determined that the United States government will pursue a prosecution in federal court against five detainees who are currently charged in military commissions with conspiring to commit the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 individuals. These detainees are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.
The Department of Justice intends to pursue a prosecution against these five individuals in the Southern District of New York as soon as possible. Prosecution of these detainees will be co-managed by teams from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia. These detainees will be transferred to the United States for trial after all legal requirements, including a 45-day notice and report to Congress, are satisfied, and consultations with state and local authorities have been completed. The detainees will be housed in a federal detention facility in New York, which includes maximum security units that have securely held terrorism suspects in the past. Once federal charges are brought against these detainees, military commission charges now pending against them will be withdrawn.
The Attorney General has also determined, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, that the prosecutions of five other Guantanamo Bay detainees who were charged in military commissions may be resumed in that forum. These detainees include the detainee accused of orchestrating the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured dozens of others, and a detainee who is accused of participating in an al-Qaeda plot to blow up oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz.
The Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense are confident that detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay can be detained securely in U.S. detention facilities and that their trials can be conducted effectively and safely in the United States, whether in federal court or in a military commission.
Over the past decade, the Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted many terrorism defendants in our federal courts. Today, there are more than 200 inmates who have a history of or nexus to international terrorism, who have been convicted in federal courts, and are now housed securely in Bureau of Prisons facilities. The Department has already transferred one former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Ahmed Ghailani, to the Southern District of New York to face trial for his alleged role in the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings.
With regard to military commissions, the reforms Congress recently adopted to the Military Commissions Act will ensure that commission trials are fair, effective, and lawful. Military commissions have been used by the United States to try those who have violated the law of war for more than two centuries. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Congress' power to determine the need for military commissions and to provide their jurisdiction and procedures, and this Congress has recently reiterated its support for commissions in adopting important reforms to the Military Commissions Act.
Finally, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense understand and share the concern of the victims of terrorist attacks about the length of time it has taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. Justice has been delayed far too long. Prosecutors in both departments are committed to moving forward with all these cases as quickly as possible and to working together to see that justice is served, consistent with our nation's values.