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A real trial or a political show coming to NYC?

Saeed Shabazz | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on November 13 that the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators would be held in federal court in Manhattan. And, as would be expected, the announcement opened a floodgate of opinion for and against the decision.

The Stratfor Global Intelligence Report stated that Holder's decision was "driven" by the need for the U.S. government to decide how to dispose of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is the U.S. naval base situated outside the nation's boundaries.

Said Holder: "Today's announcement makes a significant step forward in our efforts to close Guantanamo and to bring to justice those individuals who have conspired to attack our nation and our interests abroad."

The U.S. attorney general, a New Yorker, also said that there are 11 others at Guantanamo that will be tried by military commissions.

Those criticizing the decision did so because of security concerns and worries about baring state secrets.

The administration received strong rhetorical support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Charles Schumer and former Sen. Hillary Clinton. The American Civil Liberties Union called the announcement "an enormous victory for the rule of law."

However, Gov. David Paterson, while saying that he would do everything possible to keep New Yorkers safe, lamented that bringing the trial to the city was "a decision I would not have made." He admitted that he had been in the loop for the past six months regarding the decision.

"This trial has the quality of being a political show-trial," stated Ramsey Clark, co-founder of the International Action Center and a former U.S. attorney general under Lyndon B. Johnson. He tells the AmNews that one of his main concerns with having the trial in the city is that it would be almost impossible to find a juror who doesn't know someone who lost a loved one on 9/11 or has lost a loved one themselves.

Clark, an advocate for civil and human rights, said if there was a case where a change of venue would be relevant, it is this one. "The last place in the United States where these defendants could get a fair trial is in lower Manhattan," Clark said. Speculation abounds that the yet-to-be-named defense attorneys may argue for the change of venue. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber's trial, was moved to Denver, Colo.

While security and traffic jams, and the overall safety of New Yorkers is important during the trial, analysts say the most compelling issue is the absence of precedence of international law in addressing acts of war committed by non-state actors out of uniform.

An analyst for Stratfor writes that because the Geneva Convention of 1949 leaves combatants such as Mohammed in legal limbo, states are free to deal with them as they wish. "[Holder has] opened up an extraordinary, complex can of worms," stated the analyst.

The Stratfor opinion piece continues by saying the decision to try Mohammed in federal court "makes it clear that he was not a soldier acting in time of war, but a criminal." The attorney general is committed to proving that Mohammed is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, while guaranteeing his constitutional rights as a non-U.S. citizen.