WASHINGTON – A key US senator urged Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday to swiftly try the accused 9/11 co-plotters in military tribunals, decrying plans for a civilian trial as a "logistical nightmare."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who co-authored a draft bill to block any public funding to try the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and his four co-accused within the US federal court system, said it was "unacceptable" that Holder had yet to decide where to hold the trial.
President Barack Obama's administration initially announced plans to prosecute the men in New York, just steps from Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center destroyed in the attacks which killed almost 3,000 people.
But the plans were met with howls of protest from lawmakers and New York residents, prompting the federal government to backtrack, saying its decision was under review.
Graham recalled that Holder said in April that "New York is not off the table" as a trial venue for the group of five accused plotters just steps from where the World Trade Center and its world-renowned Twin Towers once stood, with a decision expected "in a number of weeks."
But months, not weeks, have since passed and no decision has yet been made on the fraught subject.
"As part of the enemy force that attacked our nation, these individuals should be tried for war crimes by the recently reformed military commissions system signed into law by President Obama. They should be held accountable for their actions now," Graham said in a letter to Holder.
"Mr Attorney General, if Khaled Sheikh Mohammed is not worthy of trial by military commission, exactly who would be?" he asked.
Lawmakers say a civilian trial in New York could cost around 200 million dollars a year, racking up a billion-dollar price tag if it extended over five years, as possible for a complex case.
"Trying the September 11 co-conspirators in civilian court would not only be a logistical nightmare and an enormous expense for taxpayers, but would harm our national security by criminalizing the war," said Graham, who earlier met one-on-one with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.
"The failure of the Department of Justice to make a decision on where the September 11 conspirators will stand trial is unacceptable... The American people deserve certainty as to the Obama administration's venue preference for the trial of the September 11 co-conspirators."
The South Carolina senator has engaged in high-profile negotiations with Democrats this year on immigration reform, climate change, an energy bill and the fate of Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base where 180 "war on terror" detainees remain.
© AFP 2013