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It's N.Y. vs. Obama Over 9/11 Trial (And Sir, You Should Just Give Up Now)

5 years ago
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Maybe the president can ridicule his fellow Democrats (hey, don't run to the hills) and maybe he can scorn a Supreme Court decision while the justices are seated in their robes a few feet from his podium, and maybe he can threaten and scold Republicans as negative nabobs and naysaying obstructionists -- all of which he did during his State of the Union address.

But he cannot push New York City around.

The administration's idea was to stage the trial of the self-described mastermind of 9/11 at the U.S. District Court in Lower Manhattan, the historic seat of city government. The White House and its attorney general decided to bring here the al-Qaeda terrorist cohort who planned and carried out the hijacking of four U.S. commercial planes, the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, and the killing of nearly 3,000 people.

The trial would cost $200 million a year in security alone, would cordon off a major heavily trafficked area of Lower Manhattan, would disrupt life and commerce in neighborhoods like Chinatown, TriBeCa, SoHo and the Wall Street Financial District -- the very areas most damaged by the 9/11 attacks. The trial would unfold only five blocks from the craters of Ground Zero, where once the twin towers rose into the sky. It would flood the zone with uniformed officers, in cars and on horseback, cordoned off by 2,000 metal barriers. The trial, in short, would take over a large portion of the city and its residents.

This week the White House plan hit a wall.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had initially supported the administration's plan, reversed course and called for the trial to be moved out of Manhattan. It was a major political blow to the White House. Bloomberg's decision came as pressure against the trial mounted among Lower Manhattan community boards and real estate brokers, shop owners and businessmen, and among elected officials like the two U.S. Senators from New York, Chuck Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand. The rash of opposition spread to Congress, where six key senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., asking him to abandon the idea.

On Thursday came another blow. Sen. Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she supported Bloomberg's position and believed the trial should be moved to a military base.

Opposition to the White House plan is reaching a boiling point. An administration official told Politico Thursday that conversations are happening inside the White House about moving the trial to an alternate location.

It's a fair bet that the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the other al-Qaeda operatives -- the trial of the century --- will be moved out of New York.

Questions remain: Why was the Obama administration so mistaken? Why try enemy combatants in civilian courts? Why try them in the city that has most closely felt the horror of terrorism, a city that tops the list of terrorism targets? Why bring the circus here?

You don't have to be a politician or a lawyer to see the idea was misguided. It had a touch of arrogance, going against the grain, and a bit of the out-of-touch attitude that has plagued the Obama presidency.

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