President Barack Obama said Wednesday that those offended by the legal privileges being given to the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ultimately won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."
The president made the comment in one of a series of TV interviews during his trip to Asia. He was referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who will be tried in a civilian court in Manhattan along with four others accused of orchestrating the worst terrorist strike on American soil. The Obama administration's decision to try the men in a civilian court near the site of the World Trade Center attacks ignited a fierce debate.
Obama added that he did not mean to suggest he was prejudging the outcome of Mohammed's trial. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."
The president said that experienced prosecutors on the case who specialize in terrorism have offered assurances that "we'll convict this person with the evidence they've got, going through our system."
Obama said the American people should have no concern about the capability of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. Attorney General Eric Holder last week announced the decision to bring Mohammed and four others detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to trial at a lower Manhattan courthouse.
The case is likely to force the federal court to confront a host of difficult issues, including rough treatment of detainees and sensitive intelligence-gathering.
Obama said he instructed Holder to make a decision based on the law. Asked if he will take responsibility if Holder's decision goes wrong, Obama said: "I always have to take responsibility."
Obama spoke about the topic in interviews with NBC News and CNN.