Published August 17, 2010
The inflamed debate over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan has renewed concern over the lack of public movement toward what was billed as a landmark trial for five alleged co-conspirators in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The case against confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others has idled since Attorney General Eric Holder announced it last November. His decision to try the defendants in federal court in New York City was called into question by local officials and subsequently placed under review by the Obama administration. Months later, no decision has been announced regarding the date, location or venue for the trial -- earlier this summer, Fox News learned an announcement is not expected until after the November election.
With President Obama lighting up a national political debate over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque by appearing to support the project during a White House dinner last Friday, one group representing the families of Sept. 11 victims accused the president of mixing up his priorities.
"He should be focusing on putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts on trial and allowing them to plead guilty as they said they wanted to do, rather than lecturing the families of those firefighters and their children about religious tolerance at ground zero," said Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America. Burlingame's brother was one of the pilots killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki told Fox News that the families of Sept. 11 victims and all Americans "deserve an answer as to why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed still hasn't been brought to justice."
"The focus has been on the mosque, but what about those war criminals who attacked us on Sept. 11. Why haven't they been tried and convicted as they should be?" he said.
An Obama spokesman clarified on Saturday that the president was not explicitly supporting the project, merely stating that the developers had the right to pursue it. Then the White House said the president was not backing off his original comments -- the set of explanations added to confusion about the president's stance and fueled criticism from Republicans, who had already stated their opposition to the mosque project.
The debate gathered steam as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out in opposition to the project and then as Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warned that the issue was becoming a "political football" for both parties.
Islamic advocacy groups in the United States have tried to battle the growing opposition to the New York City project.
Mahdi Bray, director of Muslim American Society Freedom, warned during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that there was a "growing pattern" of mosques being opposed in the United States -- and not just near Ground Zero.
"We are determined to defend religious rights and freedom," he said Tuesday. "We do believe that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is sacrosanct."
Meanwhile, questions remain over the Sept. 11 trial.
Holder told Congress in March that a final decision on the trial venue was "weeks away." But during one of his last news conferences before the latest congressional recess, the attorney general said "no decision" had been made.
"The conversations we are having are ongoing," Holder said.
None of the five defendants being held in U.S. military custody have been charged. Complicating the case, the discovery of tapes depicting the interrogation at a secret prison of one of the defendants, Ramzi Binalshibh, was revealed Tuesday.
Fox News confirmed that the tapes were found at the CIA in 2007. They could throw a wrench in the trial process by revealing evidence about the defendant's mental state and treatment at the Moroccan-run prison.
However, a U.S. official downplayed the significance of the tape, telling Fox News they only show "a guy sitting at a desk answering questions years earlier."
"They don't show anything more than that," the official said.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.