By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 13, 2009 - Today's decision to pursue the prosecution of 10 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, paves the way toward resolving the disposition of others there and eventually closing the detention facility, a senior Defense Department official said today. Defense and Justice Department officials announced that five detainees accused of conspiring to commit the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will be tried in federal court in New York. Another five, one of whom is accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, will be charged in military commissions.
"Bringing terrorists to justice is an integral part of our national security," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a release after the announcement. "The reform of military commissions and today's announcement are important steps in that direction."
President Barack Obama signed an executive order in January that suspended the commissions and ordered the detention facility closed within a year. Congress recently approved reforms to the Military Commissions Act, allowing officials to move forward with determining how and where the detainees are tried.
Officials from both departments said that the decisions announced today reflected a coordinated and cooperative effort and signaled a significant step toward closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
"The announcement today in terms of the prosecutable detainees was basically Round 1," a senior Defense Department official said on background. "I think now that we have the process in place [and] we have the prosecution teams in place, ... the process will move along at a fairly efficient rate."
While the five accused of the 9/11 attacks are going to be prosecuted in federal court, and the other five are going to resume their military commissions, officials were quick to point out that the commissions are not a lesser form of justice.
"The whole effort that we went through with the Congress to reform military commissions was for the purpose of making the process more robust, more credible, more sustainable upon appeal," the official said. "I think that we made some very significant reforms in that regard so that commissions would not be perceived as second-class justice."
Each case was reviewed by representatives of both departments, and the trial venue was decided based on many factors. Two things considered were the identity of the victims and the location of the offenses, the official said.
"The Cole bombing was an offense directed at the United States Navy and the victims were sailors, so that was the type of offense that we think should be tried in a ... military commissions context," the defense official said.
The defense official could not say how quickly the disposition of the other detainees will be decided, or when and where the military commissions will resume, but he did say that senior officials are anxious to get the process rolling.
"I think that you'll see more decisions like the decision today further down the road," he said. "Certainly, today's announcement is not the last one."
The five detainees whose prosecution will be pursued in federal court for the Sept. 11 terror attacks are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. The Justice Department intends to pursue a prosecution against them in the Southern District of New York as soon as possible.
The detainees will be transferred to the United States for trial after all legal requirements, including a 45-day notice and report to Congress, are satisfied, and consultations with state and local authorities have been completed, officials said.