Attorney General Announces Forum Decisions for Guantanamo Detainees
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
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
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of the Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was withdrawn in February.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
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
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.