Some people are calling it "the trial of the century."
Whether or not that is accurate, the fact is that , no sooner had Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, would be tried in New York, then controversy erupted.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it would be more appropriate to try Mohammed and four alleged accomplices before a military tribunal, since America is at war with Islamic terrorists. But Secretary of State Hillary Clnton and Mayor Bloomberg said they endorsed the Attorney General's decision to try them in a federal court in New York, just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
Holder said: "After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice. I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years."
Yet there are perplexing questions about this decision. Will placing the trial in New York give Mohammed and the other defendants an opportunity to virtually take over the proceedings and make anti-American speeches designed to impress the world? Will the trial strain the security resources of New York City? [Police Commissioner Kelly is convinced the NYPD will handle it well.]
Will a trial in a civilian court enable defense lawyers to challenge the government's case against Mohammed on the grounds that he was subjected to severe torture [notably, waterboarding, simulated drowning, 183 times]?
Mohammed has admitted he was the mastermind of the attack Yet it is expected that defense lawyers will raise constitutional challenges to the process. Will statements made under torture be admissible in a civilian court? The U.S.. Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, expressed misgivings over putting the case into federal court. "Classified information can be inadvertently leaked," he said, "...and our c ommunities will be potential targets for attack."
It will be difficult to impanel an impartial jury in the city where nearly 3 ,000 lost their lives in an attack that Mohammed has admitted planning. But our judicial system has met equally difficult challenges successfully in the past. The American Civil Liberties Union is happy about Holder's action.
But the Wall Street Journal says Michael Mukasey, the judge who presided over the 1995 trial that convicted the "Blind Sheik", Omer Abdel Rahman, of a terror plot, is dismayed. Mukasey says: "The plan seems to abandon the view that we are involved in a war.
It is controversial. Yet the decision to try this man in a civilian court should make us proud, too. We may sometimes be impatient with our system, with the safeguards to individual liberty that prevail in our courts. Yet perhaps it is fitting that this man who despises our system and our people should benefit from having access to the best lawyers. They will invoke the Constitution and Bill of Rights to protect his rights.
Let the world see our system in action. Let people in other countries marvel at how devoted we are to the very liberty terrorists would deny.