By DEVLIN BARRETT and MATT APUZZO
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is considering a criminal trial in Washington for the Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of masterminding the bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people, a plan that would bring one of the world's most notorious terrorism suspects just steps from the U.S. Capitol, The Associated Press has learned.
Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, was allegedly Osama bin Laden's point man in Indonesia and, until his capture in August 2003, was believed to be the main link between al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, the terror group blamed for the 2002 bombing on the island of Bali.
Other terrorism trials also may occur in Washington and New York City under a proposal being discussed within the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials briefed on the plan, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private planning meetings.
Authorities already have begun discussing the intense security measures needed to bring Hambali and others before a Washington federal judge, the officials said.
Conducting a trial in the nation's capital would be a symbolic repudiation of the policies of former President George W. Bush, who portrayed Hambali as a success story in the Bush administration's program of interrogating terror suspects in secret CIA prisons overseas.
Bush said such interrogations, which included the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding, helped crack alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and led authorities to Hambali. Under intense questioning at a CIA "black site," Hambali revealed a plan for another wave of suicide hijackings in the U.S., Bush said.
Obama already has decided that Mohammed will face trial in New York and has said he believes criminal courts can handle even the most dangerous terrorists. If Hambali's trial were held in Washington's federal courthouse, the country's most significant terrorism trials in generations will be conductedin the two cities targeted in the Sept. 11. 2001, attacks.
But as Obama tries to close the military-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he has found that moving detainees into U.S. courts is more difficult than he spelled out during his presidential campaign. Hambali was among 14 of what the U.S. said were key al-Qaida operatives moved from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Some Guantanamo prisoners have been cleared for release for more than a year, but the U.S. can't find any country to take them. Other detainees are deemed too dangerous to release, but prosecutors don't have enough evidence to charge them in court. And prosecuting people like Mohammed and Hambali, both of whom spent time in secret CIA prisons, risks revealing more details about the classified interrogation program.
Attorney General Eric Holder is sorting through the files of the nearly 200 detainees, deciding who can be brought to court and who should remain in a military commission system, where rules of evidence are more lax and prisoners have fewer rights. Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Hambali's fate remains undecided.
"The attorney general has made no decision on forum for this case, let alone on where such a case would be tried if it were sent to federal courts," Miller said.
The Washington courthouse has a courtroom shielded by bulletproof glass. Recently, U.S. marshals stepped up security for a terrorism trial involving Simon Trinidad, the Colombian rebel leader convicted of taking U.S. hostages.
After announcing that Mohammed would face trial in New York, Obama drew criticism from Republicans who said it would make New York even more of a terrorist target, an argument that is certain to be repeated if Hambali is brought to Washington.
Obama is one week away from his self-imposed deadline to close Guantanamo Bay, a deadline he acknowledges he will miss.
In 2007, Hambali appeared before a preliminary military tribunal and denied any connection with al-Qaida.