President Barack Obama is poised to shelve plans to put accused 9/11 terrorists on trial in New York City. But while there is no longer the political will necessary to hold the trials in lower Manhattan, they should still take place in civilian court.
Attorney General Eric Holder handled the decision for New York trials badly. He should have consulted Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD before the decision was made, rather than just before it was announced. That was irresponsible, given the security and financial issues. And it was a political blunder, given the predictable opposition. Bloomberg's initial support wilted in the heat of concern about how disruptive securing lower Manhattan would be for residents and businesses.
But a change in venue for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused in the 2001 attacks should not mean a change in court. A civilian trial is the best way to finally see justice done. More than 100 terrorists have been convicted in federal courts since 9/11, a testament to the strength of the American judicial system. And Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator now serving life in prison, was tried in a civilian court.
The decision to try some Guantánamo detainees in civilian courts and others in military tribunals reflects the flexibility it will take to resolve the problem of so many held for so long in legal limbo. Congress should reject bills, like the one from Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), to withhold money for civilian terror trials. The nation should fight terrorism with all the resources at its command. That includes the federal courts. hN