This article incorrectly said that John Walker Lindh is incarcerated in a federal "supermax" prison in Colorado. Lindh is serving a 20-year prison term at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind.
Federal Courts in Va., N.Y. May Take Some Guantanamo Cases
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Federal authorities have finished compiling detailed electronic dossiers on 241 detainees who remain in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and interagency review teams have begun studying the individual files. The process could see some suspects transferred to federal courts, possibly in Northern Virginia and New York City, the jurisdictions where the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred, according to Justice Department officials.
The specter of Guantanamo Bay inmates such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, moving to federal detention centers in Alexandria, Manhattan or elsewhere to await trial is likely to stir political controversy. Legislators nationwide have lined up to say they do not want detainees in their city or state.
"We can say that [a] person can be charged either in the Eastern District of Virginia or the Southern District of New York," said a senior Justice Department official involved in the process. "But ultimately . . . that decision then has to be approved, because every indictment has to be approved by the [assistant attorney general] for national security."
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) told Washington Post reporters and editors recently that no one in the federal government had raised the issue of Guantanamo Bay detainees with him and that Defense Department facilities may be the most appropriate location for such prisoners.
"There are more DOD military installations that have high-security spaces on those bases than most Americans know," he said. But the Justice Department official said that "presumably . . . once they are indicted they are going to be in that district like any other criminal defendant."
Both the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of New York, however, have successfully held and prosecuted major terrorism suspects, including four men convicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa, American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only suspect convicted in the United States in connection with the 9/11 attacks. All six are serving their sentences at a federal "supermax" prison in Colorado.
"If there's a decision to prosecute an individual detainee in federal court, then there'll be a decision made on which judicial district is most appropriate. But at this time it's far too early to speculate on which districts might involve such prosecutions, given that the review is pending," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
Teams of eight to 10 officials from the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Justice, as well as agencies such as the CIA and the FBI, are studying the electronic files, which contain everything from raw CIA cables to finished intelligence reports, Justice officials said.
Team recommendations will go to a review board consisting of senior officials from various departments. If the board cannot reach consensus, Cabinet members will decide the final adjudication of disputed cases.
The review teams will recommend whether to prosecute inmates in federal court, transfer them home or to third countries, or possibly resettle some of them in the United States. In January, President Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison closed within in a year.
Some European countries have said they will consider resettling some detainees, and they expect the Obama administration to do the same.
Among those who could be moved to the United States are 17 Chinese Uighurs captured in Afghanistan who are awaiting release from Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration acknowledged that the Uighurs are not enemy combatants.