New Yorkers Face the Prospect of a Terrorism Trial in Their Backyard

As we seek to come to grips with Eric Holder’s decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York City for a full blown civilian trial with all the trimmings, the people most affected would seem to be the denizens of the Empire State and the Big Apple themselves.

After doing some digging and a few brief interviews, I’ve found that attitudes seem to be mixed and, more surprisingly, don’t really fall into any sort of neat, party line divide. Mayor Bloomberg, a man occasionally described as a Republican, has come out in favor of the decision, and expressed his confidence in Gotham’s ability to maintain security during the impending circus and deliver a fair result. The state’s Democratic governor, however, provided a rather mild rebuke, claiming, “This is not a decision that I would have made.”

These contradictory responses which cross the expected party lines may have as much to do with the two men’s professional situations as it has with the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the decision. Governor Paterson is in the middle of the political fight of his life, with approval numbers bottoming out near those of Congress, and enemies --  from both within his own party and from the Republicans -- eyeing his seat in the governor’s mansion with hungry looks. He clearly has his finger in the wind and doesn’t want to come down on the wrong side of a story which obviously has many New Yorkers feeling out of sorts.

Bloomberg, on the other hand, is coming at this fresh from a massively expensive election where he barely held on to his office. Realizing that he would be given no choice in the matter anyway, it’s not difficult to see how he would seek to project an image of strength and control. He’s strutting his stuff in a confident manner, expressing not only his faith in the judicial system, but in Police Commissioner Kelly’s ability to keep security tight during the affair.

America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani --  frequently mentioned as a possible seeker of Paterson’s job -- came out with some of the harshest criticism of Holder’s announcement. But as George Stephanopoulos pointed out to him, Rudy seems to be as confused about how to handle these cases as President Obama. Back when Zacarias Moussaoui was put on trial in similar fashion, Giuliani described the process as a “symbol of justice.”

Conversely, the president had a moment back in the day when he was perfectly happy to see KSM go before a military tribunal. Tribunals are good! Then, after taking office, he denounced the practice. Tribunals are bad! And now, Khalid and his cronies will have a civilian trial, but another group of bombers will take the military route. Tribunals are good … except when they’re bad!

In other spots around the state, opinions seem to cover the entire spectrum. I spoke to an associate (anonymous by request) who does some work with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office who described the general mood as cautiously optimistic.

It looks like a very big political move that could pay off. If this thing goes off without a hitch, then it will be a huge feather in the administration’s cap. Of course, if there’s some sort of terrorist attack or the trial melts down into O.J. Simpson Part Two, then it’s going to be a huge debacle.

A friend who works for one of our Republican state legislators took a much more sour tone, describing it as a disaster.

“New York has enough to worry about,” she said. “What do you think the odds are that somebody just shoots this [expletive deleted] terrorist as soon as he gets off the plane?”