Trying 9/11 case here is not hatred for NYC

NEW YORK – Reading New York City’s tabloid press, one could easily get the impression that President Obama hates our city. This is not exaggeration; in fact, the sensational headline on the January 14 issue of the New York Post actually asked, “Why does Obama hate us?” The issue that has created such perceived animosity (and real animosity towards Obama from those on the right) is the plan by the Department of Justice to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan.

While there are some legitimate concerns, the vast majority of the controversy has been spearheaded by the extreme right wing, which is doing all that it can to try to weaken Obama, this time by attempting to make him look “soft” on terrorism.

The announcement of the plan ignited a firestorm of demands that the DOJ change venues to somewhere outside the city, perhaps even somewhere outside the state-or civilian law. Those calls now span the political spectrum, as more and more elected officials have been changing their minds about supporting the Manhattan trial since the tabloids and our few Republicans began a campaign against it.

According to those on the right, trying Mohammed in the city would be an insult to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 mass murder. Further, it would place a huge target on downtown Manhattan and would cost the city billions of dollars for security measures.

But this is all nonsense.

Let’s start with the simple stuff. Virtually everyone now knows that Washington will pay the billion or so dollars necessary for security, creating something of a downtown Manhattan stimulus program. As for increased risk for Manhattan, if the trial actually does attract homicidal maniacs, can’t the same be said for anywhere else in the country? As a New Yorker, I love my city and don’t want to see anyone attack it. On a more personal note, I don’t want to be murdered by terrorists. But I’m not prepared to say, “Well, why don’t they hold the trial in Des Moines? Better a terrorist attack there.” Still, what could be more ridiculous than the idea that this will make Manhattan a target? As the cultural and financial center of the United States, Manhattan is, unfortunately, always going to be at the top of the list for any crazed terrorists.

The most pernicious of the claims made by the right wing, and those it has influenced, is that holding the trial here is somehow a “slap in the face” to those who perished on 9/11. This is just wrong; in fact, the opposite is true. By trying Mohammed in Manhattan, in a civilian court, Obama and his administration are upholding long-standing American traditions.

It is an old tradition that, in federal courts, people are tried in the same jurisdiction where they committed their crimes. The reason is that whatever local circumstances there are may have some sort of influence. Residents know more about the case in the area: if you’re guilty, the knowledge will help the defense; if you’re innocent, you’re more likely to go free.

People like Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents parts of Long Island in Congress, have called for Mohammed to be tried in some secret military tribunal, “where he belongs.” The New York Post openly talks about the upcoming trial as “just for show” and says that we should not “pretend innocence until proven guilty.”

Is the American system of justice not good enough for people like King and his cohorts?

Mohammed is portrayed as a demon in the mass media, and this is all very likely true, even by his own admission, but do we want to allow monsters like this to be used as a pretext for subverting the notion of a fair trial, something for which generations of patriots, going back to the Revolution and even before, have fought?

That would be a real slap in the face.

There are, as in all things, pros and cons to trying Mohammed in Manhattan, and it may very well be a good idea to change the location for logistical or other reasons. In fact, the trial will most likely not be held here; the administration is currently looking at other locations across, and even outside, the state. However, condemning Obama’s Department of Justice for trying to uphold cherished democratic legal traditions (and campaign promises) is misguided at best, and anti-democratic in essence.

Respect for our legal system is not “softness” on terror.

Photo: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after his arrest.