US-DeptOfJustice-SealThe WaPo has some unnamed sources saying that Lower Manhattan will no longer be the site of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial:

The Obama administration has all but abandoned its plan to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, on trial in Lower Manhattan, according to administration officials.

A senior administration official said no decision has been formalized, but the Justice Department is already considering other venues. Said another official close to the discussions: “New York is out.”

The reversal would mark the latest setback for an administration that has been buffeted at every turn as it seeks to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Its options for closing the prison had already been dwindling, and without the backdrop of Ground Zero for a trial, the administration would lose some of the rich symbolism associated with its attempt to forge a new approach to handling high-profile al-Qaeda detainees.

The NYT concurs.

I know what I wrote yesterday, but I’ve been reconsidering this, in fact I did in the update. If this is just a change of venue, I’m cool with it. In fact, given the impossibility of getting a jury seated for the crimes of 9/11 in Manhattan, there was likely to be a change of venue anyway. Better to do it now than hand defense lawyers a likely victory later. If this is a prelude to changing the nature of the trial, and to move it back into the military commission process, it’s a problem. But the indications are that’s not the case right now.

Republicans and a number of Democrats in Congress have demanded that the detainees be tried in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that they are enemy combatants in a war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, not criminals deserving of the protections of civilian court.

But the decision to bring Mohammed and his cohorts onto U.S. soil for a civilian trial is a linchpin of Holder’s tenure, and an administration official said the Justice Department would not back down on the central principle of trying the men in federal court and inside the United States.

That commitment was welcomed by proponents of using criminal courts to try terrorist suspects.

“As long as these trials occur in federal criminal courts with proper due-process protections, the actual venue doesn’t matter very much,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “All of our federal courts are equipped and able to handle such cases. That’s where they belong, and that’s where they should stay.”

I do have a couple other points on this:

1) I think that those arguing against Lower Manhattan are overreacting about the amount of security necessary to host the trial. We’ve been hearing about hundreds of checkpoints and effectively bringing the lower corner of the island to a standstill. I’m not certain that’s warranted. Joe Sestak, appearing on Hardball yesterday, analogized to the White House, which we’re “able to keep safe” without a flotilla of checkpoints around the perimeter for miles on end. It seemed like overkill to me, though the general point of holding a trial which would at least have some security cost in a densely populated area may hold. Ramzi Youssef and other terrorists have been tried in Lower Manhattan, and I don’t remember this hysteria about checkpoints.

2) I know a billion dollars to Mike Bloomberg is like an extra sandwich at the Carnegie Deli, but in exchange for saving his city from a trial with that price tag, he really should offer full-throated support to holding a criminal trial. His sinking of the NYC venue will be misconstrued as a victory for those who think we should upend the criminal justice system that has served us well for two centuries and confine trials like this to the flawed military commission process. The least Bloomberg could do is help to minimize the damage.

For more on how the New York City terror trials went up in smoke, read this comprehensive piece from ProPublica.

The WaPo has some unnamed sources saying that Lower Manhattan will no longer be the site of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial:

The Obama administration has all but abandoned its plan to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, on trial in Lower Manhattan, according to administration officials.

A senior administration official said no decision has been formalized, but the Justice Department is already considering other venues. Said another official close to the discussions: “New York is out.”

The reversal would mark the latest setback for an administration that has been buffeted at every turn as it seeks to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Its options for closing the prison had already been dwindling, and without the backdrop of Ground Zero for a trial, the administration would lose some of the rich symbolism associated with its attempt to forge a new approach to handling high-profile al-Qaeda detainees.

The NYT concurs.

I know what I wrote yesterday, but I’ve been reconsidering this, in fact I did in the update. If this is just a change of venue, I’m cool with it. In fact, given the impossibility of getting a jury seated for the crimes of 9/11 in Manhattan, there was likely to be a change of venue anyway. Better to do it now than hand defense lawyers a likely victory later. If this is a prelude to changing the nature of the trial, and to move it back into the military commission process, it’s a problem. But the indications are that’s not the case right now.

Republicans and a number of Democrats in Congress have demanded that the detainees be tried in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that they are enemy combatants in a war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, not criminals deserving of the protections of civilian court.

But the decision to bring Mohammed and his cohorts onto U.S. soil for a civilian trial is a linchpin of Holder’s tenure, and an administration official said the Justice Department would not back down on the central principle of trying the men in federal court and inside the United States.

That commitment was welcomed by proponents of using criminal courts to try terrorist suspects.

“As long as these trials occur in federal criminal courts with proper due-process protections, the actual venue doesn’t matter very much,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “All of our federal courts are equipped and able to handle such cases. That’s where they belong, and that’s where they should stay.”

I do have a couple other points on this:

1) I think that those arguing against Lower Manhattan are overreacting about the amount of security necessary to host the trial. We’ve been hearing about hundreds of checkpoints and effectively bringing the lower corner of the island to a standstill. I’m not certain that’s warranted. Joe Sestak, appearing on Hardball yesterday, analogized to the White House, which we’re “able to keep safe” without a flotilla of checkpoints around the perimeter for miles on end. It seemed like overkill to me, though the general point of holding a trial which would at least have some security cost in a densely populated area may hold. Ramzi Youssef and other terrorists have been tried in Lower Manhattan, and I don’t remember this hysteria about checkpoints.

2) I know a billion dollars to Mike Bloomberg is like an extra sandwich at the Carnegie Deli, but in exchange for saving his city from a trial with that price tag, he really should offer full-throated support to holding a criminal trial. His sinking of the NYC venue will be misconstrued as a victory for those who think we should upend the criminal justice system that has served us well for two centuries and confine trials like this to the flawed military commission process. The least Bloomberg could do is help to minimize the damage.

For more on how the New York City terror trials went up in smoke, read this comprehensive piece from ProPublica.

David Dayen

David Dayen