OPINION: Terror trials: We have the strength for this

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Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) previously worked as a lawyer specializing in criminal defense.

In "Casablanca," Major Strasser asks Rick Blaine how the exiled American felt when the Nazis marched into Paris. Blaine responds that he had no particular love for that city.

Strasser continues to bait him: "How about New York?"

"Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

In 1993, I was appointed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to represent a co-defendant of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman on charges of conspiracy to commit sedition against the United States. Some of the defendants were convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, others of murdering Rabbi Meir Kahane. My client was found guilty of conspiracy to bomb our tunnels, bridges and landmarks.

That experience gave me insight into the mindset of the enemy later responsible for the attacks on our African embassies in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and Washington and New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Throughout my assignment, I often reflected on Rick Blaine's admonition to the Nazi Strasser. During meetings with the Abdel-Rahman defendants, I marveled at their sense of moral superiority. Somehow, their political and pseudo-religious beliefs cloaked them with a degree of strength that we "inferior Americans" could never hope to match.

In many ways, they regarded themselves as supermen, much as did the Nazis. That smug arrogance would later infuse the recorded diatribes of Osama bin Laden. Our American world of tolerance, acceptance and modernity, they feel, is just not pure enough.

The United States will now seat a new group of alleged self-styled terrorists in the criminal dock of lower Manhattan's federal court. Predictably, some of our political figures fan the flame of fear by warning of how dangerous this will be. That scare tactic plays directly into the hands of the self-professed terrorists. How powerful and dangerous are these manacled men that we cower in fright at the prospect of their being prosecuted on American soil?

We are left to wonder how the Greatest Generation managed to imprison hundreds of thousands of Nazis throughout the United States during World War II. Were our parents and grandparents that much tougher than today's Americans?

Nearly 3,000 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote that the key to winning battles is to know your enemy. This trial will allow us to do just that. At the same time, American prestige will benefit as the world witnesses due process in action.

I have no doubt that Rick Blaine would approve.

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