9/11 Terror Trials in New York

This week Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced that five alleged terrorists linked to the 9/11 attacks would be put on trial in New York’s federal district court.  The decision to give these Guantanamo detainees U.S. criminal trials with substantial legal rights has already engendered fierce political commentary.  Former New York Mayer Rudy Giuliani told Sunday morning talk shows that the trials will “give an advantage” to the terrorists, citing security risks and multi-million dollar judicial-process expenses.  Other critics worried that giving the terrorists a trial in New York provided them with a forum for propaganda, and Washington Times columnist Tony Blankly said during a broadcast of KCRW’s “Left, Right & Center” that critics of the Bush administration’s policies would use the trial to bash the former administration.  Progressive commentator Robert Sheer responded to Blankly in support of the public trial that the American people deserved an accounting for the acts of 9/11 in a public forum.

Other supporters of the Attorney General’s decision, such as Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, said that the world would watch the United States justice system perform effectively.  “We’re not afraid of these people,” he told Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”  Current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the New York law enforcement and judicial authorities could handle the trials.

The decision by Attorney General Holder raises a number of thorny questions.  For example, will evidence, such as confessions obtained by torture, be excluded the way they would be in a typical criminal trial?  If so, will there be enough evidence remaining to assure convictions?  Also intriguing is whether the court could empanel a jury that would be open-minded about the facts in the case.  There are precedents, such as the prosecution and conviction of 1993 World Trade Center bombing perpetrator, Ramsey Yusef, in a New York federal court, but the 9/11 attacks, by their scale and devastation, go beyond previous examples.

The decision is a gamble for Mr. Holder and for the Obama administration.  It would have been possible to prosecute the men in a military tribunal at a military installation.  While the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the Bush administration’s claims of unfettered extra-judicial treatment of detainees, a full criminal trial was not the only option.  If the trial is disrupted by violence or becomes a political soap-box for anti-government or anti-American rhetoric, it may do additional damage to the U.S. position and interests.  On the other hand, there may be longer-range potential benefits as well.

I am reminded of a theory put forth by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his analysis of the decline in brutal public executions in early modern Europe.  Foucault hypothesized that behind rituals such as drawing and quartering of those who offended the monarch was the need to demonstrate the power of the state over the disobedient. As laws and institutions of society and justice became stronger, it was no longer a contest between King and subject.  Instead, right and wrong became fundamental compacts of society.  In theory, the community, even the perpetrator, came to know that it was wrong to offend the law, and punishment need not be proof of the greater power of the King, but became the inevitable reckoning for one’s own wrongdoing. 

In this sense, the criminal punishment of the 9/11 perpetrators becomes more than our military asserting its superior authority.  The rule of law and our civil institutions are elevated to even a higher authority.  It’s a pretty big gamble as the difficulty with the war in Afghanistan and other acts of terrorism illustrate that our worldview is not so dominant as be universal or unopposed, but these domestic efforts to handle terrorists as mere criminals could be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate the dominance of our way of life.  Whether this will go smoothly remains to be seen, and disruption of the process could also, by implication, be a symbol of a challenge to our civilization’s supreme authority.

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Prometeus O.
Past Member 8 years ago

Complete mascarade. If US citizens still think that the "terrorists" were behind such a thing, they should take IQ tests more often. I am working at a personal injury law firm nyc and i did mine lately.

Marc Seltzer
Marc Seltzer9 years ago

I could see your argument if you were talking about medical malpractice. That is something that employes trial lawyers in very town, city and state in the country. How many trial lawyers will be employed in the terror trials? Ten? Twenty? Do you expect terror trials in every state in the Union? The prosecutors are already employed by the federal government; the defense lawyers are doing a very difficult and thankless job. What can this have to do with Democratic political contributions?

Irwin K.
Irwin K.9 years ago

People should question why Pres. Obama opt to disregard military trials for the 9/11 combatants in favor of civilian trials. You know ignorance of special interest groups that the voting public should be aware of is a godsent for the Democratic party. The voting public is clueless. Question; What group of professionals are the largest contributors to the democratic party? Answer: THE TRIAL LAWYERS. Now that the Dems. are in power, it is payback time, starting with the 9/11 trials in NY, next will be the removal of the malpractice caps on monetary payouts and god knows what else. These trials and future trials will cost the public about one billion dollars. In essence the TRIAL LAWYERS owns the Dems. Do you think we have a chance of getting support in congress, with over 90% of lawyers representing us, "FAT CHANCE"!

Charlene Wasaff
Charlene Wasaff9 years ago

(Since I ran out of letters, let me continue): .......has a war criminal captured on the battlefield ever been tried in a civilian court. The answer is NO!
For this mass murderer, the privileges that our American court system will allow KSM to have.............it is outrageous. To the argument that it will be democracy in action and we will show the world our wonderful democratic ways...........baloney! If a person doesn't know a mass murderer when they see one, I give up trying to "prove" something. Is this politically motivated. Of course it is. This administration continues to use smoke & mirrors to offset their own shortcomings on transparency, behind closed door deals, accuracy, outrageous spending and the soon to come new taxation and fees-on all of us.

Charlene Wasaff
Charlene Wasaff9 years ago

For the terrorist KSM who is about to enjoy the privileges American citizens have, I ask this of Eric Holder:
1) You have stated that "Failure is not an option" plus other comments stating KSM's guilt. In American courts there is a presumption of innocence by constitutional right. By your public statements & in accordance with civil court law, you have just tainted the jury pool. Expect a motion to be filed for a mistrial & dismissal with prejudice by the public defender due to your statements. Also, a jury is REQUIRED to presume KSM innocent at the gitgo. Good luck finding that juror that is unbiased in NY. How long will it take to even pick an unprejudiced juror?
Also be sure include the following, for the defense:
1) A Miranda Issue
2) A Coersion Issue
3) A change of venue-practically a certainty
4) Complete access to discovery-informant information
5) Identities of CIA interogaters
Could KSM get off on a technicality? Maybe-great for a man that proudly has admitted his guilt and looks forward to his martyrdom.
What are the costs in civilian court compared to a military tribunal? Is it safe? Sure it is as Mayor Bloomberg asks for an est. $75 Million for security alone.
Ask the NY citizen going about their every day business how they felt when Mayor Rudy Giuilani closed the streets in proximity to their City Hall & the Wall Street district.
Finally, has an admitted war criminal captured on the battlefield ever been tried in a civilian cour

Stephen P.
Stephen P9 years ago

The magistrates have held the hot potato and now it's time to let it all out. Perhaps we'll learn who was actually behind the 9/11 operation.


Roger H.
.9 years ago

Northern N.,
I do not know why it is so important that Obama has a US birth certificate, when McCain had a Panamanian birth certificate and those same people probably voted for him. Doesn't make any sense. Sort of like the rationalization for our own government attacking the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and trying to attack the Capital or White House on 9-11. I guess if there is enough hate, you can rationalize some ideas that are really out in left field. Hate can be a very destructive thing and eats away at rational people until they sometimes do irrational things, like at Ft. Hood and Oklahoma City. Thank you for your thoughtful, intelligent posts.

Northern N.
Cam V9 years ago

I have hardly ever heard any on the r say how smart they thought GB was (and I liked him - real homegrown patriot) so considering they all thought of him as being stupid why would they think he would be smart enough to think up a conspiracy like the truther's believe? Why is it that what many of us saw with our own eyes on 911 was not enough to bring the towers down? All of the information you relate Roger is extremely credible but there will always be the non believers .....
I have yet to have anyone tell me why it is so important that Obama be born in America .... what is with that theory? Why does it matter?

Roger H.
.9 years ago

Richard L.,
Sounds like you are another person that needs to read some factual information about 9-11 instead of relying on "facts" that you have preconceived to be true and are be spread around the Internet like a flu virus. Read the book I mentioned in my previous posts that has been endorsed by The Discovery Channel, The History Channel and PRN. It has the true facts in it and discredits any government conspiracy theory "facts" that anyone has come up with. It was the result of an independent study done by professors from universities across America that are renowned in their fields of expertise. Too bad you missed the program on the Discovery Channel about conspiracy theories. I have also heard those witnesses interviews from 9-11 and non of them studied all the facts before making their opinions and personal experiences public. In court a group of eye witnesses are your poorest evidence, ask any lawyer. Everyone sees things differently in a crowd especially when it is a catastrophic event such as 9-11. Read my last post and then read the book written by people that know what they are talking about instead of relying on "facts" that have been totally dis proven. I don't trust our government either, but the 9-11 government conspiracy theory is like saying that the numbers on the back of road signs are a sinister government code for when "The New World Order" takes over the world (by the way those numbers are there to tell maint. crews when the signs were installed).

Richard L.
Richard L9 years ago

How reasonable is it to expect a fair trial in the city of this enormous political crime? Also, if the waterboarding (torturing) 183 times of MSK to force him to lie about 9/11 (the only reason for torture) does not force ths case out of court then it is all a charade anyway. To try these POW's we tortured and not those of the previous Administration who had to be involved in any controled demolition of the WTC buildings that was witnessed and recorded, says all that needs to be said about the fairness of our Judiciary and government, not to mention our corrupted media.