NYC Trial of 9/11 'Mastermind' Tests Justice, Security

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Avowed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be tried in federal civilian court in New York City. Mohammed, or "KSM" as he is sometimes called, will be joined by four other accused terrorists. The move is a milestone for the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where Mohammed and others are still held. It marks a long-promised departure for President Obama from the policies of former President Bush, under whom the alleged terrorists were held for years without trial. Is this the return to due process that liberals have long called for?

Eventually, the five detainees will be moved from Guantanamo to New York City to stand trial. The idea of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's return to the city he attacked is disturbing to some pundits. Many, including several legislators from both parties, have argued that the terrorists should be tried in military tribunal instead of civilian court and should be kept off U.S. soil.

  • Legitimacy of Civilian Trial  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer evaluates the decision to avoid military tribunals. "It's not as though American courts are incapable of handling crimes more serious than petty larceny. A number of convicted terrorists reside in American prisons -- many of them prosecuted in the Southern District of New York. The eyes of the world will be on this trial, and anything less than a full and fair proceeding will undermine the legitimacy of the ultimate result." But he notes, "The primary feature of the new military commissions is their ability to keep certain information secret. In a public proceeding, the information about the torture of KSM and others is bound to be a part of the process."
  • Of Course He'll Be Secure  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen predicts the outcry. "We'll hear that a U.S. criminal court couldn't possibly be equipped to hear a case against a terrorist suspect -- except for all the U.S. criminal courts that have already proven that they're well equipped to hear cases against terrorist suspects. We'll hear that KSM, if convicted, will end up in an American supermax facility that's ill prepared to house terrorists -- except for all the terrorists that already safely locked away in American supermax facilities. I've simply never understood the right's weak-kneed panic over the U.S. justice system." He adds, "By giving this suspected monster a fair trial, we can prove to the world the strength of American values and the integrity of the American system."
  • Healing Through Justice  Spencer Ackerman's blog carries an anonymous post praising the move. "The possibility of failure, the possibility that the evidence will all fall apart, or be thrown out if it’s tainted or no good, that witnesses will recant or prove unreliable, that the defendant will be acquitted—all those possibilities—make it the only kind of justice worth having," they write. "This is what we need—what we’ve always needed, to start the process of healing from what happened eight years ago. Not further blood spilled on the ground, not dark prisons in undisclosed locations, not secret trials existing under a fake framework which is against everything we’ve strived for over the last two hundred years. We need a trial."
  • Puts 'Target' On New York  RedState's Erick Erickson worries whether the trials will attract terrorism. "There have been reports in the past month about another potential terrorist attack disrupted in New York City. Bringing these high profile terrorist leaders to New York will just put a target on New York again," he writes. "They will get all the due process rights of citizens in court and potentially will be able to get access to material evidence in a civilian court that could reveal intelligence we’d prefer them not to have." Ed Morrissey agrees.
  • It's Still A Show Trial  Salon's Glenn Greenwald blasts the White House for not bringing all detainees to civilian court, putting some before military tribunals. "This is a decision I really wish I could praise, as it's clearly both politically risky and the right thing to do," he writes. "What we have is a multi-tiered justice system, where only certain individuals are entitled to real trials: namely, those whom the Government is convinced ahead of time it can convict. Others for whom conviction is less certain will be accorded lesser due process. [...] A system of justice which accords you varying levels of due process based on the certainty that you'll get just enough to be convicted isn't a justice system at all.  It's a rigged game of show trials."
  • Torture Will 'Test' Our System  Marcy Wheeler argues that torture could become central in the cases. "[I]t's the treatment of the others–al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah, and al-Qahtani–that will truly demonstrate the strength of failures of our legal system. KSM, after all, has said he wants to be executed; KSM freely boasts of his role in 9/11. That’ll make it easier to avoid discussing his brutal torture. But what do you do with someone like Abu Zubaydah, who is probably not fit for trial, whose diaries (which the government still won’t give him) would prove he was tortured, and who wasn’t who they said he was when they waterboarded him 83 times?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.