The White House is nearing a deal with a bipartisan group of senators to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and pave the way for more detainees to be tried before military commissions, a move that would reverse a signature Obama administration security policy.
The deal would put the alleged mastermind of the attacks of September 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his fellow plotters and other top terror suspects before revamped military commissions, rather than in civilian trials as the Obama administration had sought. These courts would offer defendants more rights than they had under the Bush administration, but fewer than they would be afforded in civilian court.
The effort, led by White House counsel Robert Bauer and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, further sidelines Attorney General Eric Holder, who at a hearing Tuesday continued to argue that the planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other terrorists should be given civilian federal trials.
Any such deal would represent the final repudiation of Holder's November decision to bring the 9/11 plotters to civilian trial in New York City, and a switch for the White House, which suspended the Bush-era military commissions as one of its first acts in office. The White House and the Justice Department appear to be at loggerheads on the matter, and Justice Department officials say they are not a party to the negotiations.
The framework of the deal is being led in Congress by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham wants civilian courts to be reserved for low-level Al Qaeda operatives and terrorist financiers, a far smaller group than previously considered.
Forty-eight Guantanamo prisoners—men who cannot be convicted in court but deemed too dangerous for release—would face indefinite detention without trial. Democrats are willing to expand the number of detainees brought before military commissions, but want more discretion than in Graham's proposal.