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Gates declines to comment on trial site for 9/11 suspect

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates declined to say yesterday whether he thinks it's appropriate to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York civilian court, not far from the site of the attack.

Prodded by Sen. John McCain to say whether he agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder's choice on prosecution strategy, Gates replied that he thought Holder was better suited than he to make that decision.

The Arizona Republican also pressed Gates at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to say whether he agreed with the Obama administration's decision to question the suspect in an attempted U.S. airliner bombing for only 50 minutes, with civilian interrogators, before reading the man his Miranda right to remain silent.

Gates said, "I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place" to assure their presence. But he added: "I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the [Army] field manual."

McCain said that Holder "has obviously botched this thing very, very badly," and said he would continue to question how the man's interrogation was handled.

Meanwhile, the congresswoman representing White Plains says the city's federal courthouse should not be considered for the trial of the professed mastermind of the 2001 terror attacks. The courthouse is part of the same federal district as Manhattan, where Mohammed originally was to be tried. New York City officials objected, and Obama administration officials say other sites are being considered.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester), sent a letter Tuesday to Holder, saying local opposition, security issues and costs argue against White Plains.

Mayor Adam Bradley also expressed concerns, saying the city would immediately become a terror target.

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