The Terror Trial

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is no ordinary criminal. He is a bloodthirsty terrorist who happily took responsibility for the deaths of more than 2,700 people, and who surely is disappointed that the death toll wasn’t higher.

The Obama administration has decided to bring Mohammed to New York to stand trial, a move that many New Yorkers, including Governor Paterson and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, have criticized. The governor believes that the trial will pose an “encumbrance” on New Yorkers; Mr. Giuliani said that the suspect ought to be tried by a military tribunal because his crime was an act of war.

Mr. Giuliani surely echoes the sentiments of many New Yorkers who believe that Mr. Mohammed’s barbarity deserves summary justice, not the legalistic procedures that civilized nations use to protect the rights of the innocent and the guilty. Mr. Paterson is right to say that Mr. Mohammed’s very presence in a city he sought to destroy is revolting.

Nevertheless, as New Yorkers, as Americans, as advocates for universal rights and self-evident truths, we must proceed in the spirit of those values that we preach to others. We may resent Mr. Mohammed’s presence in a courtroom in our city. We may loathe the rights we will afford him as a defendant. We may despise anything he might say, or any argument his lawyer might make.

But we cannot give into those thoughts, for we are better than that. Indeed, we are better than those who seek our destruction. Their actions speak for themselves and their values. So do ours. We will allow Khalid Shaikh Mohammed his day in court. We will protect him. We will hear from him. And a small group of us—the jurors—will decide his fate dispassionately and in accordance with the rules of a civilized, tolerant nation.

That is how we do things here.