Some things never seem to go away. These are generally held to include old luggage, herpes simplex type 2, and the idea of holding civilian trials for terrorists in New York.
As I reported earlier in this space, reactions from New Yorkers have been mixed, but the idea seemed to be dying a rapid death after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided the big show would be bad for business. The governor pronounced it a flop, and Republican congressional leaders said the idea was all but dead.
But just because the Big Apple was being taken off the table, denizens of the Empire State may not be off the hook just yet. Nicholas Valentine, Republican mayor of heavily Democratic Newburgh, New York, has volunteered his home turf to host the trials.
At first glance, Newburgh might not seem like the most obvious choice for an alternate venue. With a population of roughly 28,000, it is decidedly un-Gothamlike in appearance. Nestled along the Hudson River, some 90 minutes from New York City, their dealings with violent criminal activity should generally run more along the lines of determining who started a fight at the local watering hole last week or which kids set a fire in the dumpster outside the Dairy Queen.
Appearances can be deceiving, however, since what Newburgh lacks in size, it at least partially makes up for in capabilities. It is home to Stewart Air National Guard Base, which has been used in the past to transport terror suspects and has a recently constructed courthouse with upgraded security facilities. Still, it’s quite small as cities go, with limited accommodations for the hordes of press that would doubtless descend on the region, and a corresponding lack of roads and parking for such a crowd.
Reactions to the mayor’s generous offer from the various local players arrived in a fast and furious rush. State Assemblyman Marc Molinaro (R-Red Hook) has been frequently mentioned as a potential contender for either the Senate or the governor’s office and he was clearly not a fan:
I am absolutely stunned that we could actually have elected officials welcoming terrorists to the Hudson Valley. It is insulting to cite economic gain out of the loss of thousands of lives and the loss of a global economic symbol.
Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who currently represents the district, took a somewhat more sanguine approach:
I don’t know for sure what he’s thinking about, but if there were adequate security and things were done in the appropriate way, it might be effective, but I would have to learn more about what he is suggesting.
Hinchey, of course, has a keen interest in all things terror related, since he remains convinced that George W. Bush intentionally allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from our grasp in Afghanistan as a tool to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Republican George Phillips (who is running against Hinchey in NY-22 this year) expressed a slightly different view:
The question becomes far more personal for us here in the 22nd district now that Newburgh has been offered as an alternate venue. I believe Assemblyman Marc Molinaro was correct in his response. Maurice Hinchey has suggested that he is considering the proposal and that it might be appropriate and effective. I’m not sure what more information Mr. Hinchey needs. Shipping these terrorists into our area for a full civilian trial with all the trimmings is clearly not worth whatever imagined benefit he may see coming from it. After the catastrophe which we very nearly experienced on Christmas Day, one would think that Maurice Hinchey would realize that we’re still at war.
Another GOP hopeful in the neighboring 19th Congressional District, Nan Hayworth, took a similar tone, saying:
There should be no civilian trial in Manhattan, no civilian trial in the Lower Hudson, no civilian trial period for enemy combatants who staged an act of war against the United Stated.
I can only imagine that this is exactly the argument which President Obama and the Justice Department did not want to be having all over again. The focus seems to be rapidly shifting away from where to hold the trials, and back to whether or not these suspects belong in a United States courthouse at all.
Given the early reactions and the inherent logistical difficulties, the prospect of a trial in Newburgh, New York, may wind up being nothing more than an appetizer for the media, but it paves the way for yet another debate over exactly what to do with the remaining residents of Gitmo.
Unlike the initial suggestion of a trial in the Big Apple, upstate politicians seem to be falling in along much more predictable party lines. Sections of the Hudson Valley are populated with folks who are noticeably more conservative than their big city cousins, with a significant active duty and retired military presence. It may remain up for debate as to whether or not this is good policy, but the politics of it are shaping up to be seriously ugly.