A Strategic Retreat

Give the Obama White House good marks for recognizing a mistake—holding terrorism trials in downtown New York—and correcting it before any damage was gone. But give city officials and advocates even higher grades for calling attention to the ill-advised plan, showing precisely how it would have impacted downtown businesses and skillfully persuading the White House to change course.

The administration’s plan drew criticism from the very start, but the counter-arguments weren’t taken particularly seriously until Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, began to lobby against the trials. Mr. Spinola pressed his case even while many New York elected officials remained supportive of the plan. Mr. Spinola and the Real Estate Board deserve credit for calling attention to a looming economic catastrophe and putting its credibility on the line in what seemed, at first, to be a quixotic effort to get the White House to change its mind.

Mr. Spinola’s passionate lobbying led city officials to reconsider their initial support for the administration’s plan. And when Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced the NYPD’s paramilitary-style security plan for the trial, a plan that called for the positioning of snipers on rooftops downtown, New Yorkers began to realize just how dangerous the trials may become.

Commissioner Kelly’s actions were that of a general in wartime—a lesson that should not be lost on the Obama White House. Many Americans seem to have forgotten that terrorism suspects are no ordinary criminals. They are murderous fanatics who have declared themselves to be enemies of the state. Yes, they may be entitled to rights in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the rules of war, but they are surely not entitled to the rights granted U.S. citizens under the Constitution (except, of course, in those rare cases when terrorists are U.S. citizens). These are wartime trials, and they will require wartime security measures. As such, they should not and cannot be held in the midst of a vulnerable civilian population.

This episode should remind us that, like it or not, we are at war with homicidal ideologues who would like nothing more than to see New York, the United States, Israel and the democracies of Europe wiped from the map. Those who profess this ideology are not run-of-the-mill miscreants. They and those who support them are dangerous militants willing to kill themselves if it means killing Americans. Accord them the rights that they would deny others, but hold their trials in a place far from innocent civilians.