No one knows for sure when (or even if) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 terrorists will enter a New York courtroom to face a judge and jury. For one thing, defense attorneys may want to shift the venue away from the place just blocks from where the World Trade Center’s twin towers fell in a murderous pile.
But for US Attorney General Eric Holder -- front man in the Obama administration’s decision to bring alleged 9/11 “mastermind” Mohammed and the others from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Manhattan -- the trial has already begun, and he’s the one in the dock.
No one would disagree with Mr. Holder’s characterization of the September 2001 attacks by hijacked aircraft as “literally the crime of the century.”
But it took only about three nanoseconds for politicians and other partisans to begin weighing in on the subject, generally along these lines as expressed in the two national newspapers published in New York City:
The Wall Street Journal. “Eric Holder's decision to move a trial on war crimes to American soil is morally confused, dangerous and political to a fault.”
The New York Times.“It was an enormous victory for the rule of law, a major milestone in Mr. Obama’s efforts to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and an important departure from [former president] Bush’s disregard for American courts and their proven ability to competently handle high-profile terror cases.”
New York’s mayor, governor, and police commissioner all say they’re OK with Holder’s decision.
"They are responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people right here in Manhattan, and I think they should be tried in the venue where they committed the crime," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters Friday. "That has always been the standard in our criminal justice system. I see it fitting and appropriate."
Mayor Bloomberg notes that the city has hosted terrorism trials before, including the successful 1995 conviction of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other Islamic militants responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
But Obama’s (and Holder’s) political opponents are having none of that. Some examples:
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R) of Ohio) calls the decision “further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality: treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best.”
Senate minority whip Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona says it is “a constant amazement to me that there are some who seem more concerned about extending legal protections to terrorists than security protection to Americans.”
“It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an “independent Democrat” but who sides with Republicans on most military and defense policies.
The response from families of those killed on 9/11 has been mixed. Some don’t want to have to revisit that bright and horrific morning eight years ago. Others see the New York trial -- assuming it results in convictions -- as a way to witness justice done and perhaps to gain some sense of closure.
“Let them come to New York,” Jim Riches, a retired deputy chief of the New York Fire Department, whose firefighter son Jimmy died in the attack, told the New York Times. “Let them get on trial. Let’s do it the right way, for all the world to see what they’re like. Let’s go. It’s been too long. Let’s get some justice.”
Justice may be everybody’s goal -- those who support Attorney General Holder’s decision and those outraged over it. But a New York trial for those whose alleged acts led to two divisive wars resulting in much more loss of life can never mark the end for those who bore the most.
“There’s never going to be any closure for me," said Elaine Leuning, who lost her son, Paul Battaglia. “I don’t want to be involved in the trial. It’s not going to do it for me, it’s just not. It’s not going to make me feel any better. This is my son. This is a piece of me that’s gone."
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