The week after domestic terrorist Nidal Hassan went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his decision to send five 9/11 terrorists to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court.
The Fort Hood massacre was the most serious act of domestic terror since 9/11. Why give the similarly inspired the incentive to make the pilgrimage to New York and act on their rage? This well-meaning but misguided decision by the Obama administration could hold deadly consequences for New York.
Holder has vigorously defended his decision and argues that to try these terrorists in a civilian court is the “right” thing. Trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorists yards away from Ground Zero might provide a civics lesson for the world, but it displays a reckless disregard for common sense, with no discernible benefit and the risk of grievous harm.
Let me be clear about something: I am confident that the U.S. attorney and his team of prosecutors will do a spectacular job of upholding the high standards of the Justice Department, and they will get these guys convicted. But getting them convicted is not the sole measure of success. The key issue here is our national security — more specifically, the security of all New Yorkers.
If we are at war, as the attorney general affirmed this week, we have to treat it like a war. War criminals are not tried in civilian courts. The 9/11 conspirators were originally charged by a military commission, a congressionally approved system which is a safe and fair means of trying enemy war criminals, be they members of traditional militaries or non-state terrorists. To move these terrorists into the civilian justice system is to give them legal rope that they intend to hang us with.
The discovery process required by a civilian trial could compromise the critical intelligence we have gained since 9/11. Andrew McCarthy, former assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York recently explained that in a military trial, only lawyers with the right security clearances have access to intelligence secrets. But the rules are different in a civilian trial, where the terrorists can use their constitutional “right” to act as their own counsel and demand to see the legal discovery. We would be forced to hand our secrets to our enemies on a platter.