Leading Democrats Join Bandwagon Demanding That KSM Trial Be Moved From Manhattan

Political support appears be collapsing on every front for the Obama administration's plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court in New York City.

Among the latest prominent Democrats to join the growing political wave urging that the trial be moved to a different location is Senate intelligence committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, normally a fairly strong backer of the current administration's counterterrorism policies. In a letter sent today to the White House, Feinstein urges President Obama to "reconsider the decision to bring 9/11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to justice in New York City," citing growing concerns about the trial that have been expressed lately by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local officials.

"The bottom line is that decisions over the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be made with consideration of the views of local governments, the security involved, and the costs," Feinstein tells the president, adding, "You have the flexibility to move this trial to a less prominent, less costly, and equally secure location. In my view, trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City presents an avoidable danger, very large costs, and undue burdens on the city."

Feinstein's letter does not go so far as to adopt calls by some Republicans—and conservative Democrats—for the administration to abandon its plan to try KSM and other 9/11 defendants in regular criminal courts and instead shift the legal process to some sort of trial by military commission. Earlier this week, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman was joined by both prominent Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain and conservative Democrats Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln in signing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder criticizing administration plans to try the 9/11 suspects in civilian courts. In their letter, Lieberman and company declare that "it is far more logical, cost-effective, and strategically wise to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the military commissions that Congress and the president have now established for that very purpose."

Political pressure on the administration to reconsider its plans to try KSM and other 9/11 defendants at one of the federal courthouses located near City Hall in Lower Manhattan has been climbing over the past several days. One of most significant figures to demand a change in trial plans is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has expressed concern that a Manhattan trial would be dangerous and massively disruptive and suggested that a better venue for the proceedings might be a military base, where security precautions would be easier to manage. Bloomberg hasn't explicitly called for the case to be moved out of the federal courts, however.

On Thursday, a group of eight prominent Democratic politicians from Manhattan added their voices to the cacophony, demanding that the 9/11 trial be moved outside that borough. However, the eight, led by Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velázquez and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said that they still supported the notion that the accused terrorists should be tried in civilian federal courts, and that some location should be found for the trial within the Southern District of New York, the federal court district where the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. The Southern District spreads for miles beyond the boundaries of New York City and does include outlying military facilities that could serve, at least theoretically, as alternative venues for a terrorism trial.

As NEWSWEEK reported here, due to shifting political winds, administration officials over the past several weeks have begun to realize that the plan they announced last year to try the 9/11 defendants in Manhattan was "potentially in jeopardy." Last month, the New York Police Department, which initially seemed to welcome a Manhattan trial, submitted to the Justice Department an elaborate presentation arguing that the only way city authorities would be able to shoulder the security burden for such a trial would be if federal authorities financed extensive overtime work by NYPD officers. NYPD presented the feds with a cost estimate of $216 million for the first year of any KSM legal proceeding, with $200 million for each additional year of the trial. Paul Browne, chief spokesman for NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, said Friday that his department had not yet received a response from federal authorities to the presentation.

Leading Democrats Join Bandwagon Demanding That KSM Trial Be Moved From Manhattan | U.S.