I cheered when the federal government announced that it would try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 terrorists in civilian court in
The government is doing the right thing by ditching its plan. I believed that holding the trials in the city most affected by the attacks was going to be a great symbol of the resilience of NYC and the United States, as well as a symbol that we were repairing the rule of law that was damaged during the Bush administration. That symbol became less meaningful once it became clear that the trials would have serious adverse effects on the everyday lives New Yorkers, and could potentially put them in danger of another attack.
Although I agree with the decision to change the location of the trials, I also think that this is a setback for the administration. A quote in the New York Times article makes the point that the decision to move the trials is a propaganda dream for Al Qaeda. It’s a sign that AQ can make its presence felt years after 9/11 even in the absence of an actual attack.
In the end, the federal government has no one to blame for this but itself. Apparently Attorney General Holder did not contact anyone in NYC until just a few hours before the announcement that the trials would be there. There was no consultation with NYC authorities as to what security or logistical steps would be needed to facilitate the trials. Had there been preliminary discussions, the administration could have avoided what seems to be a significant setback in the President’s national security agenda. Now it seems like holding these types of high-profile terrorism trials in civilian courts is impossible, and that the solution to the problem is to try them in military courts.The Washington Post reports that Senator Lindsey Graham is planning to introduce legislation that would indirectly force these trials into military tribunals. The administration cannot allow that to happen. Cancelling the NYC trials is a setback, but the answer to the problem cannot be a reversion to Bush administration policies of dealing with terrorism’s legal issues through the military. Federal courts have handled terrorism trials in the past, they are absolutely capable of handling these trials, and the place for these kinds of trials is in civilian court, not in military tribunals. The solution to this problem should be to move the trials to a federal court in a less populous location where effective security measures can be more cheaply and easily implemented, and where the effect on the local population would be significantly lower than if they were held in NYC or Washington, D.C.