Editorial: The terror trials

Volume 79, Number 25 | November 25 – December 1, 2009

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


The terror trials

Two of President Bush’s many failures were that he never found a constitutional way to prosecute the captured detainees responsible for the Sept. 11 attack on Lower Manhattan, and he never came up with a plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, despite his stated desire to do so. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision last week to try the admitted mastermind of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, near the scene of the crime will help accomplish both goals.

President Obama and his attorney general did not have good choices. Bringing the terrorist trials to Lower Manhattan will likely cause economic pain to small businesses, inconvenience Downtown residents and workers and be a burden on the New York City budget. Governor David Paterson was correct that the decision will be an “encumbrance” to New Yorkers. Washington should recognize this sacrifice by Lower Manhattan and the city.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was right when he used to think that civilian trials were the ideal place to try terrorists. Our rule of law is one of our greatest strengths. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lower Manhattan is the most experienced and successful in the country prosecuting terrorists.

New York suffered by far the greatest loss of life on 9/11 and experienced the most devastating destruction, so it is most appropriate to give the people who were hurt the most an opportunity to witness an open, public trial.

The trial will undoubtedly heighten the risks to Lower Manhattan, but no police force in the U.S. is better equipped and prepared to handle terrorist threats. The New York Police Department’s track record gives us reason to be confident that it will take the necessary steps to insure our safety. The risk will never be zero, regardless, but it can be minimized.

This sacrifice perhaps may have the unintended benefit of deepening the connection between the N.Y.P.D. and federal security officials.

One of our big concerns is the effect this enhanced security will have on our community. The all-but-inevitable additional street closures will make it harder for small businesses to operate. Some merchants may end up closing if they don’t get help. Since 9/11, we have seen many businesses in Chinatown and the Civic Center area close after being crippled by the security measures ordered by the N.Y.P.D.

A miniscule amount of the billions of dollars in 9/11 rebuilding funds went to help small businesses suffering because of nearby reconstruction. But not one penny ever went to those struggling to make it because of enhanced security.

Our two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and our congressional representative, Jerrold Nadler, all support the Lower Manhattan trial venue, so they now must lead the charge in making sure Lower Manhattan and the city are compensated for our sacrifices. Businesses will need financial help to overcome these closures. The city will need help paying for all of this added security. That is likely only a partial list of what will be needed from Washington. We don’t know precisely what the security measures will be — and once we do, there may well be unanticipated problems after they are implemented.

Lower Manhattan may be the least-bad place to try Mohammed and his accomplices. But Downtown will need help serving the nation in this most-important effort.