WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is taking a more direct role in the decision where to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the White House said on Friday.
The Obama administration faces growing opposition from Democratic and Republican lawmakers to plans to try Mohammed and four others in a federal criminal court in lower Manhattan. New York City officials also oppose the idea.
A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation last week aimed at cutting off funding for the criminal trials, arguing that Mohammed and his fellow accused did not deserve full constitutional rights and could use the civilian trials to espouse their anti-American views.
"Obviously there are efforts on Capitol Hill through legislation to restrict either the type of, or the venue of, a trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
"So, since this effort has moved from strictly a Justice Department decision to something that's in the legislative arena, the White House and by definition the president are involved," he said.
The move by the group of senators would effectively force the prosecutions into revamped military commissions.
Gibbs would not be drawn on whether military commissions were an option being studied by the White House. "There are a series of things that are being looked at," he said.
Obama administration officials have stressed they prefer prosecuting the 9/11 suspects in criminal courts, but they have never definitively ruled out the option of shifting them back to military commission trials.
But the administration moved last month to dismiss the military commission charges pending against the five men. Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators are being held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison.
Obama has said lower Manhattan is still an option for the criminal trials, even though Attorney General Eric Holder has been searching for other possible venues for the prosecutions.
Gibbs said the administration would take into account the security, logistical and cost concerns raised by New York City when making a final decision.
The Obama administration has maintained that most foreign terrorism suspects have been prosecuted successfully in federal criminal courts.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
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