Terrorism trial gets a change of venue

The Obama administration abandoned its plan to try self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants in Manhattan.

What happened

The Obama administration this week abandoned its plan to try self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants in Manhattan, bowing to intense pressure from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the state’s congressional delegation. Bloomberg, who had previously supported holding the trial in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, near the former site of the World Trade Center, cited the high cost of hosting the trial and the potential disruption to commercial activity near the courthouse. A study by the city estimated that the trial would cost more than $200 million a year, only some of which would be borne by the federal government.

The decision is a setback to Obama’s goal of closing the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and trying some terrorism suspects held there in civilian courts rather than in military tribunals. That plan is facing growing opposition in Congress, where 18 senators, including two Democrats, introduced legislation this week that would bar the use of federal funds to try terrorism suspects in the U.S. Administration officials are now scrambling to find an alternative location for Sheikh Mohammed’s trial while insisting that they are determined to bring most terrorism suspects to justice in federal court.

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What the editorials said

“President Obama may finally be getting the message,” said the New York Post. “Don’t treat terrorists like common criminals.” Perhaps now Obama will come to his senses and admit “just how difficult it is to find a suitable venue for a civilian trial—anywhere.” There’s an obvious solution: Shift the proceedings back to Guantánamo, which “is the most logical and appropriate place for terrorists.”

Actually, downtown Manhattan would have been the perfect setting to try the man who plotted the mass murder of thousands of New Yorkers, said The New York Times. We do sympathize with city leaders who worried that the trial would overburden New York’s depleted treasury, but we’re baffled by the fear, expressed by some politicians, that a New York trial would invite too much attention. “Isn’t the idea of a public trial a bedrock principle of American justice?” That’s why the trial belongs in civilian court, said New York Newsday. Every conviction of a terrorist in a fair, public trial is “a testament to the strength of the American judicial system.”

What the columnists said

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed must be smiling” in his prison cell, said Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. U.S. politicians from across the ideological spectrum are now spreading the “idiotic nonsense” that the sky will fall “because a terror suspect has access to a lawyer and a trial in a civilian courtroom.” These Chicken Littles seem to think that “hordes of al Qaida terrorists” will attack whatever court winds up housing the trial. Maybe they failed to notice that the only people al Qaida can recruit lately are incompetent “underwear bombers.” How strange that the way politicians look “tough” these days is by “exaggerating their level of fear.”

Sadly, that fear is justified, said Michael Barone in The Washing­ton Examiner. We keep hearing from the Left that the U.S. needs to prove that we believe in the rule of law. “But just whom are we trying to impress?” The Obama administration’s determination to close Guantánamo did nothing to dissuade Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from trying to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day. Its devotion to the rule of law didn’t stop Nidal Hasan from killing U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas in November. Obama needs to worry less about what the world thinks of us and more about protecting our citizens.

This entire spectacle certainly does not instill confidence in Obama’s approach to fighting terrorism, said Peter Roff in USnews.com. First came the obviously ill-thought-out decision to move the trial to New York City, followed by “the equally abrupt decision to move it away from there.” All this wavering “projects indecision.” That might be tolerable when the issue is, say, the impact that stimulus spending has on job creation. “But it is positively irresponsible when it comes to the war on terror.”

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