JOD to look for other place for 911 tria

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JOD to look for other place for 911 tria
Thu, 01-28-2010 - 10:02pm

White House orders Justice Department to look for other places to hold 9/11 terror trial

BY Kenneth R. Bazinet, Adam Lisberg and Samuel Goldsmith

Originally Published:Thursday, January 28th 2010, 8:04 PM
Updated: Thursday, January 28th 2010, 9:14 PM

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his arrest in March 2003.

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his arrest in March 2003.

The White House ordered the Justice Department to consider other places to try the 9/11 terror suspects after a wave of opposition to holding the trial in lower Manhattan.

The White House took the action hours after Mayor Bloomberg called Attorney General Eric Holder to say he would "prefer that they did it elsewhere."

"It would be an inconvenience at the least, and probably that's too mild a word for people that live in the neighborhood and businesses in the neighborhood," Bloomberg told reporters.

"There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive for New York City."

State leaders have railed against a plan to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Manhattan federal court since Holder proposed it last month.

The order to consider new venues does not change the White House's position that Mohammed should be tried in civilian court.

"President Obama is still committed to trying Mohammed and four other terrorist detainees in federal court," spokesman Bill Burton said Thursday.

"He agrees with the attorney general's opinion that ... he and others can be litigated successfully and securely in the United States of America, just like others have," Burton said.

Burton referred questions about the location debate to the Justice Department.

Officials there have apparently been caught off guard by the fiery opposition in New York, an insider told the Daily News.

"They're in a tizzy at Justice over Bloomberg," a federal law enforcement official said. "It's like a half-baked souffle - the plan is collapsing."

Meanwhile, a source told The News that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was the driving force behind the push by Manhattan business leaders to change the mayor's mind on the trial.

Kelly made an "extremely powerful" speech to a roomful of 150 prominent business leaders about how disruptive and costly the trial would be for lower Manhattan at an annual police charity event on Jan. 13, the source said.

"What turned this around was when Ray made a presentation to the Police Foundation," the source said. "Everyone went from thinking, 'Justice will be served' to thinking 'We are screwed.'"

What followed was a barrage of complaints to the mayor from some of New York's most powerful tycoons - part of a tide of pressure that led Bloomberg to turn against hosting the trial.

Estimates put the cost of a multiyear terror trial in lower Manhattan at about $200 million a year. Leaders have suggested other venues for the trial, such as the Military Academy at West Point or Stewart Air National Guard Base in upstate Newburgh.

The federal government has said they would reimburse the city for the costs, most of which cover overtime for increased security, but they won't reimburse business owners for lost revenue during the chaos, said Steven Spinola, president of the heavyweight business group Real Estate Board of New York.

"Is the federal government going to give the city $1 billion plus the cost of propping up businesses? I don't think so," Spinola said.

"The mayor clearly has been thinking about this. The tide is turning," He said.

By the end of the day Thursday, Bloomberg's open opposition to a Manhattan trial had snowballed into a near total rebuke of the plan by politicians statewide.

Rep. Pete King made a push against a Manhattan trial by introducing a bill that would prohibit the use of Justice Department funds to try Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts.

The Long Island Republican called the White House plan "one of the worst decisions ever made by any President" and insisted Mohammed should be tried by the military.

Gov. Paterson reiterated his opposition to a Manhattan trial because of the price tag and the burden it will put on the downtown residents.

"I think New Yorkers have been through enough," Paterson said on ABC's "The View." "In my opinion, maybe we all need to sit down and see if there isn't another venue."

With Kenneth Lovett, James Gordon Meek and Rocco Parascandola

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