Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged 9/11 mastermind, could be coming to a lockup in America. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon.
President Barack Obama's order to empty the U.S. prison camps in Cuba is designed to avoid a Guantánamo North on American soil by scattering the 245 detainees between federal trials and shipping some overseas by this time next year.
The order doesn't rule out new military commissions at domestic bases.
To achieve the president's goal, the Cabinet-level task force weighing the options must determine whether intelligence should be declassified for criminal trials on U.S. soil.
The order encourages trial in federal courts as an alternative to the war crimes tribunals that were suspended last week. The plan could spread the detainees around, rather than consolidate them in one place.
Under one widely considered scenario, the Justice Department would assign some of the war crimes cases to federal prosecutors in New York and near Washington, D.C. -- and move those men first to the United States.
Prime candidates are Mohammed, who already is under indictment in New York, since 1996, for an ill-fated plot to bomb U.S. airliners in Manila, and Ahmed Ghailani, also indicted there in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. Both men are at Guantánamo, where they have been charged with war crimes.
The president's order, signed Thursday, ''does not eliminate or extinguish the military commissions. It just stays all proceedings,'' one senior administration lawyer told reporters Thursday, leaving open the possibility that a modified war crimes court could be set up at a military base.
Of the 245 detainees now at Guantánamo, 21 are accused of war crimes. But it is not clear how many could be charged in the federal court system, a process that could move them out in stages and spread them around the nation. Some analysts have pointed to New York and Virginia as possible locations for federal trials. But administration officials said Friday that it is too early to say who might face trial, or where.
''All the relevant agencies will first have to conduct a thorough review to determine the best available option for addressing each individual,'' Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
If found guilty, federal convicts could join other terrorists at a ''supermax'' in Florence, Colo. ''Unabomber'' Theodore Kaczynski, 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph are all there.
People being charged could be transferred to federal lockups. José Padilla, now in Florence, was held on terrorism charges for two years in a federal lockup in downtown Miami -- after President George W. Bush ordered his transfer from the Charleston, S.C., Navy brig to stand trial.
But Republican leaders conjured up frightening images of a wholesale transfer of all 245 to one site. Or of unwise releases that could put America at risk -- stoked by a fresh report Friday that a Saudi man, sent home from Guantánamo in 2007, had emerged as a leader of an al Qaeda cell with suspected links to a deadly bombing at a U.S. Embassy in Yemen.
''Most families neither want nor need hundreds of terrorists seeking to kill Americans in their communities,'' said Republican Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
''Kansas is no place for enemy combatants or terrorists,'' said Sen. Sam Brownback, who has campaigned fiercely against moving Guantánamo detainees to Fort Leavenworth in his state, where the U.S. military holds criminal soldiers and which has a Death Row.