Defense & National Security

New Yorkers Stand Against U.S. Terror Trials

Last night a group of New Yorkers — Manhattanites, many of whom were there on 9-11 — took a stand against the Obama administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other 9-11 plotters in New York’s federal court.

Their move came on the same day the Obama administration announced that the federal Bureau of Prisons would acquire Thomson Correctional Facility in Illinois and use it to house terrorist detainees currently imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base. It was a small but highly symbolic act of resistance was staged in a downtown New York City auditorium.  

Community Board 1 of Lower Manhattan considered a resolution at its monthly board meeting opposing Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try KSM in Manhattan federal court.

Mark Ameruso, Assistant Secretary of Community Board 1, a downtown resident and civilian responder on September 11, led a vocal group of residents in specifically asking the board to withhold its support for holding the trials in the area.  Ameruso introduced the resolution requesting that the administration reconsider its decision to hold a civilian trial for al-Qaeda’s most notorious operative blocks from the site where 19 terrorists carried out Mohammad’s plan, murdering nearly 3,000 Americans.

Ameruso, a Democrat, said that his resolution was not motivated by politics or ideology.  “Nearly everybody in that room is going to be a Democrat…many of them are liberal Democrats.  We all are Democrats here in Lower Manhattan and we are saying, ‘Please, Mr. President, reconsider this for the safety and quality of life of Lower Manhattan.

Several residents spoke in opposition to the trials in the meeting’s public comment period.  Carolyn Harley, a resident of the community since before the facility where Mohammad will be held was even built, was the most passionate.

“I do not understand the necessity for having the trials of the terrorists here in Manhattan,” she told the audience.  “This places so many of our lives in jeopardy.  We did not ask for this.”  

Outside the meeting room, Ms. Harley told HUMAN EVENTS what she thought should happen to Mohammad and his co-defendants.  “I think he should be tried where he is,” she said.  “He’s been there for the past eight years, at Guantanamo.  Why can’t they keep him there?  Why does he have to come into an area that is so heavily populated with families?”

Ms. Harley said that she supported President Obama during the campaign.  Asked whether she expected this decision would come of Obama’s campaign promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo, Ms. Harley said that she would have hoped that the president’s advisers would have recommended not holding the trials in her neighborhood.

Those thoughts were echoed by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), a surprise attendee at the meeting.  Silver said that he was not satisfied that the federal government had considered the impact of the trials on the quality of life in the community.

“We cannot be held hostage to these trials; citizens that cannot go into their houses and business that cannot do business because of this.  It’s unacceptable,” Silver said.

At least five more speakers took to the podium during public comment, all in opposition to the trials.  At the conclusion of the comment period, Amoroso moved that the board dispense with the normal order of business and consider his resolution.

The resolution read in part, “Community Board One respectfully requests that President Obama and A.G. [sic] Holder reconsider their decision and relocate the venue of the 9/11 terrorist trial away from Lower Manhattan to a secure non-residential location that will not affect the safety or quality of life of New Yorkers.”

After a short discussion, which featured resistance to the resolution from Board Chairwoman Julie Menin, the board tabled the resolution until next month.  The reason cited:  to allow supporters of the president’s decision to be heard along with the opponents.

Afterwards, Joseph Mirabella, who spoke in favor of the resolution during public comment, was disappointed.  Mr. Mirabella, a lifelong Democrat who voted for President Obama last November, said that the board’s action was “gutless.”  

“I can’t figure out why they would table this.  It doesn’t make sense.  It’s not that this board is going to be able to do anything; it’s just going to recommend.  This board doesn’t have the power to change the mind of the president.”

Mirabella, who supported President Obama during the campaign, said that the decision to hold the trial has soured him on Obama.  “I felt so encouraged that he would bring change to our community and he’s really disappointed me,” he said, adding, “I’m questioning whether I would actually vote for him again.”

Ameruso was resigned.  “I am extremely disappointed that most of the board members decided not to act on this right now,” he said.  “The next meeting is five weeks from now.  The terrorists could be here by then, and we haven’t had our voice.”  Ameruso said that he would try to get the resolution passed out of the board’s executive committee, but feared that it could die there.  “I think ideology is trumping common sense,” he lamented.  

Debra Burlingame, board member of 9/11Never Forget Coalition and the sister of Charles Burlingame, pilot of the doomed American Airlines flight 77 that Mohammad’s men crashed into the Pentagon, sympathized with the community.

“They saw things that you didn’t see on television,” she said. They saw people jump to their deaths from 100 stories up.  They lived in that neighborhood, where they could smell the decaying body parts mixed with the toxic rubble of 220 vertical acres.  When they came home after being evacuated, they found the ash of human remains on their windowsills.  They don’t want to relive that day.” 

But Burlingame said one of the dangers of holding the trials in New York — or anywhere else in the U.S. — comes from the nature of the prison system itself. “Prison is a bureaucracy, and whenever you are dealing with a bureaucracy things can go wrong,” she said.  

Burlingame citied the potential for bureaucratic snafus to allow terrorists in U.S. prisons to act as recruiting tools not just in the prison population, but also worldwide.

“The 1993 World Trade Center bombers at supermax [the federal government’s maximum security facility outside Denver] were not having their mail properly monitored.  Ninety letters made it to terror networks all over the world, were published on al-Qaeda websites, and used as recruiting tools.  I’m not worried about terrorists breaking out of supermax or lower Manhattan.   They can do much more damage from behind the wire.”  

President Obama has said that closing Guantanamo would remove a terrorist propaganda tool from the al-Qaeda network.

At today’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs referred to criticism of the Administration’s decision to house terrorist detainees at Thomson as “crazy.”  But in Lower Manhattan tonight, opponents of the Administration’s decision to hold terror trials in New York City were only scared and upset.  

The overwhelming majority of Community Board 1’s residents and board members are Democrats that voted for the president last year.  But at least on this issue, they stand firmly against him.  For them, it’s not about politics; it’s a matter of survival.

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