Challenges Remain In Bringing 9/11 Suspects To N.Y.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others are set to stand trial in New York City for the Sept. 11 attacks. They will be moved from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston tells guest host Robert Smith about the challenges in getting the prisoner to the New York courtroom.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

If you think your holiday travel plans are complicated, think about this. At some point over the next couple of months, we're not sure when, federal marshals will transport one of the most dangerous criminals in the world into the center of Manhattan.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four other men are set to stand trial in New York City. And right now, they're in Guantanamo Bay. Their journey to a Manhattan federal prison will be one of the most secret and secure trips ever taken.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here to explain how this might work.

Hey, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Hey there, Robert.

SMITH: So I should say right up front, we're making some assumptions here. The U.S. marshals aren't about to give you an itinerary for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. So, how do we make an educated guess on what's going to happen?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, a lot of this is based on what has happened in the past. They have moved high-level detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. in the past. And based on that and the way they move prisoners around generally in the federal prison system, we can make some pretty educated guesses on how he'll get here.

SMITH: So help us picture this. They're obviously in prison cells in Guantanamo Bay. How do they get them to a plane, I suppose? Do they walk them out on a tarmac? Is it the middle of the night? What do we know about how this transfer might happen?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we don't know what time it will be, although I think it's a pretty good bet that it's going to be in the middle of the night. But, yes, essentially, what would happen is they would be transferred to U.S. marshals, who would then put them on a plane.

SMITH: When I picture this plane, I can't help but think of the movie "Con Air," that Nicolas Cage movie about a prisoner transfer gone wrong. And the inside of the plane in this movie is almost industrial looking. There are cages and gates and men in shackles. Does any of that have a basis in reality?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Some of it does. I mean, I would be exceedingly surprised if they decided to send all five of them together in a big plane. I think we're going to see a small plane, like the kind you see corporate CEOs taking off and landing in, these GVs with windows on the side. And that they're retrofitted inside so that they can be shackled. And they will probably pull the shades down so, for example, he wouldn't be able to - if they were to go over Ground Zero, he wouldn't be able to see it. And they're probably going to fly him into one of two places, either Teterboro in New Jersey or an airport called Stewart, which is in Newburgh, which is just north of the city.

Najibullah Zazi, the Denver area man accused of plotting to bomb these transportation targets in New York, was flown into Teterboro.

SMITH: Now, I've been to Teterboro, and in order to get into Manhattan, you usually go through the Lincoln Tunnel or you could go over the George Washington Bridge. I take it that's probably not going to happen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's highly unlikely to happen. They flew Zazi from Teterboro to a heliport in downtown Manhattan.

SMITH: Now, once he is actually in Manhattan, I mean, none of these precautions stop. If anything, they'll ramp up at that point.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. They'll pull him into an underground garage at the Manhattan Correctional Center. They'll probably take him to a unit called 10 South, which is a maximum security wing. That's where Bernie Madoff used to be as well.

SMITH: Now, once again, we are basing all of this on precedent. It could be a completely different scenario. But do we even have a good guess about when all of this will happen?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we don't, really. We know that they have to notify New York members of Congress at least 45 days before they transfer any prisoner from Guantanamo Bay to any city in the U.S. So we know that these New York members of Congress are going to need to find out, and that hasn't happened, apparently.

I would guess we're going to find out that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these other four men were transferred after the fact.

SMITH: NPR's counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston.

Hey, thanks a lot, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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