WPXI-11: Possibility Western PA Could Be Site for 9/11 Trial; Local Politicians Against Re-LocationMonday, February 1, 2010
There's the possibility that western Pennsylvania could be the site for the trial of the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
President Barack Obama just released his budget for the coming year, and it sets aside $200 million to help hold the 9/11 trials in U.S. civilian courts. Pennsylvaniaís federal courts are not being ruled out.
Justice Department officials confirmed Monday that they still want to hold the trial of Khalid Sheik Muhammad in New York City. They said New York isn't "off the table."
But amid protests from New York's mayor and amid concerns about cost and security of a trial in Manhattan, they said, if necessary, a different court in a different U.S. community will be used.
A former assistant U.S. attorney general and 18-year veteran of the justice department told Channel 11 the trial likely must be held in some community with relevance to the attacks, perhaps one reason the administration announced it wanted to do this in New York City and likely why so many are thinking it might instead happen in Somerset County.
"In truth, there's a large part of the east coast that you could choose from. You could go to Florida where the defendants first came into the country. You could go to New Jersey where they got through the airport at Newark and where they took flight lessons too. There are a lot of jurisdictions where defendants did something," said Pat Rowan, former assistant attorney general.
Late Monday afternoon, a group of U.S. senators announced efforts to block any funding for a trial in any jurisdiction.
But, Obama's administration's budget sets aside a large chunk of money to pull off these 9/11 trials and the administration insists itís still fully committed to using a civilian court.
"What we can't do is cut corners on things that go directly to our national security," said David Axelrod, White House strategist.
Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said Monday he is not in favor of holding the terror trials in Pittsburgh or anywhere in Pennsylvania. He said his biggest concern is the safety and security of the citizens.
"If there is any more to bring them to Pennsylvania, I'll fight it. And, I know Sen. Casey will and the Pennsylvania delegation. We'll fight it. We're not going to let that trial come to Pennsylvania," said Specter.
Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, District 18, led efforts by the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to oppose the relocation of the trial.
In a letter to President Obama, members of the delegation insisted the terrorists be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, rather than put American citizens at risk.
"Holding domestic terror trials on American soil unnecessarily jeopardizes the safety of U.S. citizens," said Murphy. "Bringing terrorists to Pennsylvania for trial would put a target on local judges, jurors and citizens of our region for a terrorist attack. This is an unnecessary risk my colleagues and I are committed to stopping."
The letter was signed by representatives Tim Murphy, Charles Dent (PA-15), Jim Gerlach (PA-6), Joe Pitts (PA-16), Bill Shuster (PA-9), and Glenn Thompson (PA-5).
Former justice officials said the only kind of opposition local leaders can apply is political. If the administration insists on holding a trial in Pennsylvania, even local officials canít legally block it.
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