KSM TO SKIP NYC…. In November, when the Justice Department announced it would try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others connected to the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York, far-right voices were apoplectic, but New Yorkers seemed largely unfazed. NYC didn’t buy into the notion that a trial was something to fear — the city has hosted terrorist trials before — and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his support for the administration’s decision.
In recent weeks, that changed. And as support evaporated, the Justice Department re-thought its plans.
The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.
“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”
The reversal on whether to try the alleged 9/11 terrorists blocks from the former World Trade Center site seemed to come suddenly this week, after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg abandoned his strong support for the plan and said the cost and disruption would be too great.
It’s worth noting that the shift appears unrelated to Republican hysteria — remember the laughable “sketch artist” argument? — and the Cheneys’ oh-my-god-we’re-all-going-to-die fear-mongering. Rather, New Yorkers began to appreciate the logistical hassles, and concluded the expenses and inconveniences weren’t worth it.
More recently, in a series of presentations to business leaders, local elected officials and community representatives of Chinatown, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly laid out his plan for securing the trial: blanketing a swath of Lower Manhattan with police checkpoints, vehicle searches, rooftop snipers and canine patrols.
“They were not received well,” said one city official.
New Yorkers aren’t terrified; they’re busy. They don’t mind hosting a trial; they mind shutting down large swaths of lower Manhattan and shouldering an expensive burden.
Nevertheless, I think the general trend is deeply unfortunate. The American system of justice is strong enough to deal with monsters like KSM and his cohorts, and it’s done so many, many times, but we’re approaching a legal, political, and logistical dynamic that makes trials that used to be routine very difficult.
For years, this wasn’t an issue at all. When we got Zacarias Moussaoui, we charged him, tried him in a courtroom not far from the Pentagon, convicted him, and locked him up for the remainder of his miserable life. No one threw a tantrum or fretted over logistics.
The same is true of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Richard Reid, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Jose Padilla, Ali Saleh al-Marri, John Walker Lindh, and Masoud Khan. The U.S. justice system has tried, convicted, and imprisoned hundreds of terrorists in recent years. Not one has ever escaped; not one has ever tried to escape, and not one had a problematic trial.
It appears those days of a straightforward process are gone.