US President Barack Obama has yielded to political opposition on agreeing to try the self-professed mastermind of 11 September attacks in a military tribunal at Guantanamo and not in a civilian court as he had promised.
US Attorney General Eric Holder blamed lawmakers for the policy reversal, saying their December decision to block funding for prosecuting the 9/11 suspects in a New York court 'tied our hands' and forced the administration to resume military trials.
His announcement was an embarrassing reversal of the administration's decision in November 2009 to try 11 September mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators in a court near the site of the World Trade Center attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.
That decision had been welcomed by civil rights groups but strongly opposed by many lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- and New Yorkers, who cheered Holder's announcement that the Obama administration had reversed course.
In moving the case back to the military system, the Justice Department unsealed a nine-count criminal indictment that detailed how Mohammed trained the 9/11 hijackers to use short-
Another of the five -- Walid bin Attash -- tested air security by carrying a pocket knife and wandering close to the doors of aircraft cockpits to check for reactions, said the indictment, which prosecutors asked the court to drop so the case can be handled by a military commission.
The decision to abandon civilian prosecution was an admission that Obama has not been able to overcome political opposition to his effort to close the prison for terrorism suspects and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a key 2008 campaign promise. It came on the day he kicked off his campaign for re-election in 2012.
James Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said a military trial for the five men was 'the only rational course of action' and Obama was unlikely to be hurt politically by the decision.
'The public basically just ignores the issue these days. Even overseas, Europeans who were so critical before of Guantanamo have really gone to sleep on the issue.'
Obama has called the Guantanamo Bay facility, set up by his predecessor President George W. Bush, a recruiting symbol for anti-American groups and said allegations of prisoner mistreatment there had tarnished America's reputation.
He promised to close the prison by the end of his first year in office, but that deadline passed with no action as the administration confronted the hard reality of finding countries willing to accept custody of the inmates.
The prison still holds 172 people, down from 245 when Obama took office in January 2009.