In Brooklyn, a trial is unfolding in federal court for a man accused of plotting to blow up New York City’s subway system in 2009. The trial hasn’t gotten much attention, one scholar said on NPR, considering it has been “an occasion for a convention of terrorism suspects.”
Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor for the New York Times, points to the trial for another reason in the newspaper’s Loyal Opposition blog.
He suggests it shows faulty thinking by those politicians who effectively blocked a trial in civilian court of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and four co-defendants. Next month, the five will be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo. Rosenthal assails the politicians who opposed a New York City trial:
“There is no good reason to believe that the criminal justice system can handle an alleged terrorist who plotted to destroy the subway, but not an alleged terrorist who plotted to destroy the World Trade System. No good reason. The obvious bad reason is politics. Opposing the Mohammed trial was a publicity bonanza for tough-on-terrorism Republicans and a bipartisan group of cowardly members of the New York Congressional delegation.”
There is increasing evidence that the federal courts can handle trials of terrorism suspects, Rosenthal writes. He also suggests that a federal court proceeding could have brought more transparency to potentially embarrassing aspects of Mohammed’s treatment:
“The secondary bad reason is torture. If the Mohammed trial had taken place in federal court, details about his treatment might have become public, embarrassing lawmakers who either supported or turned a blind eye to prisoner abuse under President George W. Bush, and shaming President Obama, who has done nothing to bring his predecessor to account.”
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act and other policies have weakened the historic power of courts to protect our rights and check possible government abuses, Justice at Stake says on its web site. To learn more, see Justice at Stake’s “Courting Danger” report.