Salena Zito

NEW YORK – Eight years ago, President George W. Bush stood on a pile of rubble and told New Yorkers, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Perhaps President Barack Obama should take a cue from his predecessor and hear what New Yorkers say about his administration’s decision to prosecute five Sept. 11 suspects here.

Finding a New Yorker who is happy about that is difficult.

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“I don’t see the upside,” said Louis Polanco, a retired New York City cop. “The unprecedented security, the anti-American rhetoric coming from the defendants and the overall physiological effect on this city, all of it is bad news.”

Blocks from where the World Trade Centers stood, a grand jury began hearing evidence last week against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (often referred to as “KSM”), the self-professed mastermind of the 2001 attacks, and four accused accomplices.

Last month Attorney General Eric Holder decided to bring the cases to a federal court in Manhattan. Late last week he made an unannounced visit to the courthouse, to inspect security for the pending trial.

“It is a reckless decision on his part,” said New Yorker Harold Mandelbaum. “This trial should be held by a military tribunal, not here where it all happened.”

Mandelbaum, 42, an accountant in Manhattan, argues that the plotters claim to be soldiers and should be tried as soldiers, not as civilians.

Nancy Kassop, a State University of New York constitutional law professor, sees “practical considerations to support Holder’s decision,” including the fact that this “is where the evidence and witnesses are.”

Standard criminal procedure, she says, dictates that a trial be held in the jurisdiction where a criminal act is committed, absent a compelling reason to do otherwise.

So, on purely conventional grounds for a typical crime (although 9/11 was hardly typical), setting the trial where the crime was committed would be expected – and required.

Yet here is what’s on so many New York minds: The trial will be a magnet for other terrorists to demonstrate outside the court, to disrupt the trial – or, worse, to attack again.

Then there’s the cost of the extraordinary law-enforcement presence that will be needed – a huge drain on a city that is struggling financially.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.