Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« Michael Winship: In a Chilly London November, War and Remembrance | Main | A Tale of Two Quagmires »

Michael Winship: New York's Tough Enough for Terrorist Trials

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"New York’s Tough Enough for Terrorist Trials"
By Michael Winship

If you want to royally tick off New Yorkers, try telling us what to do.

That’s probably why the police stopped trying to enforce the jaywalking laws here years ago (as opposed to Washington, DC, where I once got one too many tickets and was sent to pedestrian school).

And that’s why in the weeks after 9/11, my favorite sign was the one that appeared in the windows of Italian-American neighborhoods near where I live downtown. In bright red, white and blue, it read: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. You got a problem with that?”

So imagine how pleased many of us were when told by conservatives – most of them from out-of-town -- that we should be very afraid that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some of his Al Qaeda henchmen will be put on trial here in New York City, just blocks from the scene of their horrific crime, the World Trade Center.

My own unscientific survey indicates that most of us who live not far from Ground Zero and who were here on 9/11 see it as an appropriate and just venue and aren’t afraid that the trial will result in terrorist retribution. And if for some reason it should, we will stand up in righteous, rational indignation, the way we New Yorkers do on an almost daily basis, whether the source of vexation is slight or extreme.

I immediately thought of the moment in Casablanca, when the supercilious Nazi, Major Strasser, asks Humphrey Bogart if he’s one of those who can’t imagine Germans occupying New York. Bogart replies, “There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.”

The response of Arizona Republican Congressman John Shadegg was especially offensive. After noting that Mayor Mike Bloomberg had said that New Yorkers are tough and could handle the trial and its attendant commotion, Rep. Shadegg declared on the floor of the House, "Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped at school by a terrorist? How are you going to feel when it's some clerk -- some innocent clerk of the court -- whose daughter or son is kidnapped? Or the judge’s wife? Or the jailer's little brother or little sister?"

Rep. Shadegg wound up apologizing, although he insisted the point survived his insensitivity – “I think it is important to note that this decision involves potential risk to innocent people," he said. But even Rupert Murdoch’s right wing NEW YORK POST took offense, describing Shadegg’s remarks as “the outrageously shameless use of Bloomberg's children as debating points.”

Two local politicians who should know better did speak out in opposition to a federal trial here in Manhattan, but to a large degree their motives can be perceived as mercenary. Both men are or may be running for statewide office, and polling outside the city indicates that when it comes to a civilian trial, a sizable majority has bought into the fearmongering.

Former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who became such a hero in New York as he walked the rubble-strewn streets on 9/11, and who has been bandied about the media as a potential candidate for governor or the US Senate, fell into conservative lockstep and told CBS News, "There is no reason to try them in a civilian court. Others are going to be tried in the military tribunal. And the reality is we've never done this before. And this is something that was pushed very, very hard by the left wing for President Obama to do.”

Which is odd, because back in 2006, when a civilian jury sentenced 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to life without parole, Giuliani told Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that while he would have preferred the death penalty, the verdict “does show that we have a legal system, that we follow it, that we respect it. And it is exactly what is missing in the parts of the world or a lot of the parts of the world that are breeding terrorism... it does say something pretty remarkable about us, doesn‘t it?”

What’s more, when blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahmanm, the architect of the first Trade Center bombing in 1993, was convicted in New York federal court, Giuliani said, “It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law… I think he's going to be a symbol of American justice."

More baffling was New York’s Democratic Governor David Paterson, who told THE NEW YORK TIMES, “This is not a decision I would have made… We still have been unable to rebuild that site, and having those terrorists tried so close to the attack is going to be an encumbrance on all New Yorkers.” But the governor’s popularity is so low and election chances next year so slim he is desperate for the slightest grit of traction. A Siena College poll this week had 69% saying they would vote for someone else. At this point, he probably would allow himself to be pulled between two farm tractors if he thought it might help him carry upstate.

Paterson’s position also seemed to puzzle US Attorney General Eric Holder – a New Yorker, by the way – who last week announced the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow conspirator here in the city. When told of Paterson’s comments, he said to the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, “It’s a little inconsistent with what he told me last week.”

Attorney General Holder, in this instance at least, has been the consistent one, unwavering over the rightness of his decision while admitting that it was a “tough call, and reasonable people can disagree with my conclusion.”

On Wednesday he handled four hours of often harshly critical questioning from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and then met with families of 9/11 victims. He countered the opposition’s main objections. “We know that we can prosecute terrorists in our federal courts safely and securely because we have been doing it for years,” Holder said, and the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) “establishes strict rules for the use of classified information at trial.”

As for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – often identified simply as KSM -- and his track record of rabid histrionics, Holder said that the terrorist “will have no more of a platform to spew his hateful ideology in federal court than he would have in military commissions…

“Judges in federal court have firm control over the conduct of defendants and other participants in their courtrooms, and when the 9/11 conspirators are brought to trial, I have every confidence that the presiding judge will ensure appropriate decorum. And if KSM makes the same statements he made in his military commission proceedings, I have every confidence the nation and the world will see him for the coward he is. I'm not scared of what KSM will have to say at trial -- and no one else needs to be either.”

Which seems right to me and my friends who stood on our neighborhood streets and watched those towers burn and fall. You got a problem with that?

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

NYers, no fear or thick headed--either way they will be OK.

Gen. Holder's attempt to appease the left wing liberals by bringing Bush & Chaney to court by backdoor politics, while Pres. O courts moderates seems to be no CHANGE to USA politics!

Both parties of Congress are happy to continue the Health Care media focus in hopes of delaying Mainstreet's return to the realization of the complete failure of the Legislative Branch in protecting Mainstreet from the greed of Corporations, Government (defence included), citizens voracious consumption,etc.!

CONGRESS is a Faliure! Vote both parties out!

Billy Bob Florida

I just read today about Bill Moyer retiring from TV. Please, please please, hand pick your successor! Your show and your perspective must continue!


Mike LA, CA

Dear Bill Mower;
We always watch your shaw with extreme interest as (unfortunately) it is part of a very, very few which intelligent programs.
We hear, today, with dismay, from the International Ecology Center that the actual emission of gasses by the industry is increased enormously and it is still increasing!! On the 20 December in Copenhagen the meeting of the "20" country, will reunite to discuss a new table of provision in order to diminish and bring it back to the 1990 level immediately, if we want to save the Earth and the Human race with all of what is living on this Planet. Unfortunately, Canada, who is the major polluting country in the World (gas extracted from sands in Alberta State) has decided not to participate in this debate with our surprise!!! It means that the so proclaimed "Best beautiful country in the Planet" is not so, and do not care of the life of the living creatures and the one of the EARTH itself!!!!!!!!? People around the Worlds should reunite together and make a stand to the Industry and Politicians that care only for money and richness and Power???
Marco Verdis from Canada

Take out the "opiate of the masses" and


is simply

buy our oil or DIE

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Ben Franklin

All the commonly publicized arguments against a civilian court trial sound heavy on fear, with "facts" being slim to none - and Slim just left town (i.e. the "facts" are mainly speculation).

Following the path of least resistance and hoping for greatest success according to their view, would a terrorist be most likely to execute a terrorist act in NYC during a time of tense heightened security, or on just another day; which is how 9/11/01 began?

If a choice of trial venue is based on fear and speculation, without real evidence that safety or national security would be compromised, wouldn't that shift the standard for liberty?

If we in the land of the brave don't believe in fair civilian court trials, then what do we believe in - the coward's ideology of KSM?

JCHoulihan wrote, in part, "What I don't know: Who of those survived?"

That's because the local news media that was competant enough to get together that kind of NORMAL and real NEWS was shangheid in 4 days by "federal" censors.

What do you WANT, Houlihan?

Besides re-writing the rules so that Bloomberg can play feudal lord forever, providing bread and circus - lots of prozac, "no smoking" hip-fascism, and Broadway lawn chairs on astro turf - well, not even astro turf, just green paint on the street, "budget problems" -

doesn't mean that the power and obligations and duty of a "free" people government have been fulfilled...does it?

This is either going to be a socially engineered safety valve release, akin to the rapid-justice hanging of Hussein, or

it could be something else...

"Fear" is behind your post, not sure which "fear" it is...?

Afraid of us all ending up with a new way to use OCD attention to "details" to turn injustice into justice...?

afraid of justice actually getting a shot at "just the facts, ma'am, TRUTH...?

or is your "fear" a simple fear that a HEAVY-DRINKING, non-smoking, lawn-chairs-on-Broadway, Huxley's 1984 "word" censored diet of "news" for 9 years means that "terrorism" ALREADY IS more "powerful" than "law" and things might get blown up to prove it...?

Wha'? You don't know enough neighbors in "low places" who can whisper the "scoop" to you about where to go to avoid the "traffic"...?

Hey, get out of town if you's a free country, right?

No shame in being a "refugee" for a while, is there? Millions are doing it...

I applauded Mr. Holder's decision, but he has been hamstrung by the Administrations continuing blurring of the lines between terrorist acts and the idea of unending 'War'.

Terrorist activities should be prosecuted in our courts when they are not acts perpetrated by and for the governments of countries.

We need to de-escalate and pull back from such phony wars, and our present government has become complicit in a damaging obfuscation that will only muddle the issue and perpetuate the Bush Doctrine.

I guess they would privatize all the courts if they could figure out a way to do it.

The American people are watching this kabuki show, and they know they are not getting what they voted for. They also know that Republicans are creating a sham argument out of desparation - Obama seems to be falling for it, or if not, he is dancing their dance. Shame on him; we deserve better, and we shall look for it elsewhere.

"If you want to royally tick off New Yorkers, try telling us what to do." PRECISELY. And this is one life long Democrat pissed off at the machismo posturing of my fellow liberals. WhO ARE YOU to put the lives of women and children at risk again? Who you to decide how this survivor should feel. I walked past the day care center in the WTC every day; I knew the cobbler, the florist, the bankers. What I don't know: Who of those survived? How dare you. Keep your god damn machismo to yourself. Who are you define what is bravery for those of us who survived that day while our neighbors and friends perished. Why not send an engraved invitation to the terroists: "Here, come on, what a great venue this is for killing more of us." I am so sick to death of male ideological posturing. Screw you. This is the most unkind illiberal hypocrital piece of shit that anyone has inflicted on "victims." SCrew you.

You're too old to even attempt to be "hip"-conditioned, Klark...

What's the blockbuster movie in the theatres this weekend? The channeled "inspiration" left behind since 911...?

A "vampire" movie - yup, vampires...and they all LAUGH as they lie to the "adults" - "'s really about LOVE...."

People are so "conditioned" that they may forget about terrorist trials when they hear Bill Moyers and Oprah are "going out" (retiring their shows) together.

KSM,now, that a rapper?

Michael Winship,
I think New York is the best place to have the trials because that is where the crime was committed. What is ironic is that the person responsible for the crime is still at large while our economy is trashed and our military people are being killed daily to shore up the people who celebrated our disgrace.
We were even stupid enough to train the pilots that crashed the planes into the towers.
How long can we support gross incompetence?

Post a comment

THE MOYERS BLOG is our forum for viewers' comments intended for discussing and debating ideas and issues raised on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. THE MOYERS BLOG invites you to share your thoughts. We are committed to keeping an open discussion; in order to preserve a civil, respectful dialogue, our editors reserve the right to remove or alter any comments that we find unacceptable, for any reason. For more information, please click here.

A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

Your Comments


THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

Click to subscribe in iTunes

Subscribe with another reader

Get the vodcast (help)

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ