The Attorney General of the United States has decided not to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and four alleged accomplices in New York City.
The decision is controversial, but there hasn't been enough attention focused on what it means to New York. In terms of the city’s economy and the costs of holding this trial here, it means a lot.
The location of the courthouse where a New York trial would have been held is part of the problem. There are narrow streets leading into and out of the Foley Square neighborhood. As Police Commissioner Kelly advised us, check points would be set up in lower Manhattan to protect the courthouse and the participants in the trial. All in all, security, it was expected, would cost about a billion dollars.
Business people in Chinatown would be hard hit. Indeed, some predicted that a long trial would destroy some businesses because it would be so difficult to get into and out of Chinatown. There are an estimated 200,000 people who live and work there.
One businessman, Jan Lee, whose family has lived in Chinatown for three generations, had to move his furniture factory to Brooklyn after 9/11.
"We can finally sleep at night, knowing this trial will not be held here," Lee told me. " We would have had a military shutdown of this neighborhood but we were able to get our message to Washington. The trial would have crippled business and hurt our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and children. It would have interfered with everything from weddings to funerals and tourism."
Interestingly, Lee is not in favor of the trial being held in Guantanamo. He thinks it’s important that there be “transparency” and adds: “There are many places where the trial could have been held in this state and residents would have welcomed it.”
Lee is right. The decision to have the trial in Guantanamo should not be seen as repudiation of faith in our system of justice. Justice doesn’t have to mean imposing a hardship on a city neighborhood.
Even civil liberties zealots should recognize that there needs to be no conflict between the pursuit of justice and the welfare of citizens.