Why Even Without KSM, New York Is Ground Zero in the Legal War on Terror

The most notorious among Gitmo's prisoners is Mohammed, the Pakistani operations planner who thought up the 9/11 attacks and orchestrated them at bin Laden's behest. Mohammed's military-commission case has started, stopped, restarted and is now slowly proceeding through pretrial motions, though some observers question whether a trial will ever be held.

Gitmo Court Chaos Replaced by Order

Obama campaigned on a promise to close Gitmo and pledged to transfer KSM to New York for trial in Lower Manhattan. But the president was forced to cave on that vow in the face of political pressure.

That hasn't, however, kept Obama from returning to the practice of using New York's courts and federal facilities for terror cases. On Monday, officials said there is no chance that al-Libi would be sent to Gitmo.

"The federal court system has proved it is unparalleled in getting intelligence in terror cases and in getting convictions in terror cases," said Matt Miller, who was Attorney General Eric Holder's top spokesman for much of the first Obama term. "In New York, they know how to do everything from security to interrogations to conviction. They have a proven track record and it all goes back to the first World Trade Center attack."

Since his capture over the weekend, officials have declined to discuss al-Libi's precise whereabouts but they have made it clear that when interrogation by a special unit is done, he's on his way to New York. There, he will be housed in the infamous "Terror Wing" at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

According to those who have visited both that facility and the prison camps where KSM is held in Cuba, MCC is viewed as far worse.

"Anybody who's visited the highest-security camp at Gitmo versus the highest-security area of the federal facility would choose Gitmo every day of the week, 100 percent," said one longtime Justice Department official, who declined to be identified discussing details of terrorism prosecutions. "There are restrictions on movement, restrictions on communication."

Those who have visited the "Terror Wing" describe a facility of 8-by-12 cells, where prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing are locked up 22 hours a day. It has been compared in news accounts to the fictional prison in "The Count of Monte Cristo."

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