. The reason for the turnaround is that New York politicians—most importantly Mayor Bloomberg and Sen. Schumer, with Schumer automatically joined by his “sock puppet” senatorial colleague (that’s the
name for her) Kirsten Gillibrand—have begun urging the administration to change the location of the trial. Which only shows that if these same politicians, mainly Bloomberg, had opposed the New York trial at the start, the idea would never have gotten off the ground. But Bloomberg, to his disgrace, gave his complete approval to the idea prior to Attorney General Holder’s November 13 announcement, and only now, months later, has he been led to change his mind by the rising public concerns about the trial and a fuller realization of the costs involved. Why was Bloomberg such a pushover in November? Why didn’t he object to the obvious outrage and trauma of a New York City trial back then? Why didn’t he stand up for his city? In November he followed the alien team of Holder and Obama in one direction, in January he followed an increasingly alarmed and angry public opinion in the other direction. At no point has he given the appearance of exercising independent judgment in the matter. It looks like Kirsten Gillibrand is not the only sock puppet in New York politics.
Meanwhile the Republicans are moving to stop a federal criminal trial altogether and have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other prisoners tried before a military commission. Senate Republicans failed by a 45-54 vote in November to require that foreign terrorists be treated as enemy combattants, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has served as a prosecutor in military commissions, thinks the same measure would pass today. Given the total dereliction of duty shown by the administration in the Christmas day terrorist attempt and its aftermath, and the resulting need of at least some Democrats to distance themselves from the administration on security matters, I agree with him.
Administration Considers Moving Site of 9/11 Trial
By SCOTT SHANE and BENJAMIN WEISER
New York Times
January 29, 2010
WASHINGTON—Facing mounting pressure from New York politicians concerned about costs and security, the Obama administration on Thursday began considering moving the trial of the chief organizer of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks out of Manhattan, administration officials said.
President Obama said through a spokesman that he still believed a civilian criminal trial for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has admitted planning the attacks, and four accomplices could be conducted “successfully and securely in the United States.” He did not mention New York specifically.
Mr. Obama left the decision on possible alternate sites to the Justice Department, which was scrambling to assess the options, administration officials said.
A decision to move the Sept. 11 trial from Manhattan would be a retreat by the administration from its calculated choice in November to bring the defendants to a courthouse just blocks from where the World Trade Center stood.
The dispute over a trial location, touched off when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York complained of costs and disruption, threatened to reopen the divisive question of how those accused of plotting the murder of more than 3,000 Americans should be brought to justice.
Republicans in the Senate and House said they would try to block financing for civilian criminal trials for the alleged terrorists, seeking to force the administration to place them on trial before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or on a military base elsewhere.
Opponents of civilian trials said they hoped new doubts about a New York trial and increased fears of terrorism since the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day would win more Democratic support for such measures.
The apparent collapse of what had seemed since November to be a settled decision to hold the trial in Lower Manhattan was clear when New York’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, said on Thursday that he was encouraging the Obama administration “to find suitable alternatives.”
A Schumer spokesman, Brian Fallon, said the senator was “following the guidance” of Mayor Bloomberg and the New York police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, and “shares their concerns about costs, logistics and security.”
Mr. Obama restated his support for a civilian trial, which supporters say would have more legitimacy than a military tribunal. A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, called Mr. Mohammed, the self-described Sept. 11 mastermind, “a murderous thug” and said “the president is committed to seeing that he’s brought to justice.”
Mr. Burton said the president agreed with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that civilian trials were the right choice. “Currently our federal jails hold hundreds of convicted terrorists, and the president’s opinion has not changed on that,” he said.
Finding a site for a trial rejected by New York City could prove a challenge. Other Southern District locations appeared to pose problems. Some officials mentioned the Eastern District of Virginia, where terror trials have been held, or the unused Illinois prison where the administration has proposed to move detainees from Guantanamo.
A Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said Thursday night that there had been no decision to shift the trial from Manhattan. He said department officials were confident that the Southern District, where the department’s most experienced terrorism prosecutors work, could handle the case “while minimizing disruptions to the community to the greatest extent possible consistent with security needs.”
City officials have estimated security and logistical costs could total more than $200 million per year for a trial that could last several years, and some politicians have complained that a trial could make the city an even more attractive target for Al Qaeda.
Mr. Bloomberg, who in November had strongly backed Mr. Holder’s decision to bring the Sept. 11 defendants to the city they were accused of attacking, surprised administration officials on Wednesday by saying he had changed his mind. On Thursday, he elaborated, not closing the door to a Manhattan trial but expressing strong preference for another location.
The mayor said “there are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive” than New York City. “For example,” he said, “military bases away from central cities where it is easier to provide security at much less cost.
“And so, would I prefer that they did it elsewhere? Yes, but if we are called on, we will do what we’re supposed to do.”
Mr. Bloomberg said he called the attorney general on Thursday afternoon to lobby for moving the trial outside Lower Manhattan.
Also on Thursday, Gov. David A. Paterson repeated his longstanding opposition to a Manhattan trial, and several more politicians expressed doubts or outright opposition.
New York’s junior senator, Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat, agreed and said she was “open to alternative locations,” adding that she remained committed to a federal criminal trial. And eight elected officials from Manhattan wrote to Mr. Holder to say a trial in the borough would be “extremely burdensome.”
They said they backed a criminal trial but asked for a review of other possible sites in the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx and six counties north of the city.
In Washington, Congressional Republicans who have long opposed criminal trials said they hoped to use the debate over trial locations to steer the cases back to military commissions.
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would block financing for civilian trials for those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he would introduce a parallel bill in the Senate next week.
Mr. Graham, an experienced military prosecutor who has long argued that foreign terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants, proposed a similar amendment in November but it failed to pass the Senate by 54 to 45. He said he believed the same measure could pass today.
But the administration is anything but eager to reopen a debate over whether civilian or military trials were the right choice. Other Southern District sites come with their own problems.
Among the sites mentioned are Stewart Air National Guard Base near Newburgh and a federal prison at Otisville. But the base has no court or prison facilities, and the prison has no courtroom, their spokesmen said.
Another possibility might be the federal courthouse in White Plains, 30 miles north of Manhattan, a city of more than 50,000. But the mayor, Adam T. Bradley, said he had deep concerns about security. “I think we need to be realistic,” he said. “Once you’ve placed it in a place like White Plains, you’ve made the city an automatic target, and everything located in it.”