New York Dems: We Can't Afford KSM Trial

Last Friday, nineteen members of the New York Congressional delegation put their names to a letter to President Obama in advance of the upcoming trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and his co-conspirators in lower Manhattan.  In the letter, the nineteen representatives, all Democrats, request inclusion of a special line item in the president’s 2011 budget request to “fully reimburse the City of New York for all security and other expenses related to providing a safe and secure trial.”

The letter expresses the members’ support for hosting the trial in New York City, but takes note of the burden that will be placed on the New York City Police Department, the community surrounding the federal courthouse, and the budgets of the City and State of New York.

“The trial of KSM will require an unprecedented amount of security, both to protect the judicial proceedings at the Courthouse and the surrounding area,” the representatives write. “Without full federal reimbursement, the costs of providing security for this trial will significantly compromise the NYPD’s efforts to prevent crime and terrorism, and further burden the budgets of New York City and New York State, both of which are already reeling from the severe economic downturn.”

Rep. Michael McMahon is leading the reimbursement effort on the House side. McMahon also joined Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) earlier this month in calling on the president to provide funds for New York City in connection with the trial.  McMahon was elected last year to represent Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, an area that had been continuously represented by a Republican since 1981.  

McMahon supported Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to hold the trial in New York City, telling Politico in November, “It’s time to move forward and bring these animals to justice.”  That tough talk has given way to concerns about security, “emotional trauma,” and costs as the trial grows closer.  All are factors that Democrats largely brushed off when the Obama administration’s decision was announced two months ago.

One reason for the change of heart among New York Democrats could be a groundswell of opposition both locally and nationally to holding the trial blocks from the site where nearly 3,000 Americans died in the attacks.

On the national level, HUMAN EVENTS and the influential conservative community website have joined forces to sponsor a petition drive calling for the trial to be moved out of the civilian court system.  The petition has garnered over 80,000 signatures to date.  Prominent New York Republicans Rep. Peter King, gubernatorial candidate and former Rep. Rick Lazio, former governor George Pataki, and the former representative of McMahon’s district, Vito Fossella.

Lazio Lashes Out at Paterson, Cuomo

Lazio told HUMAN EVENTS the decision to hold the trial in New York was “unacceptable and irresponsible,” and said that McMahon’s letter was misguided.

“It’s fine to seek reimbursement, but that doesn’t get to the real issue,” he said.  “The fact that the cost of security is projected to be over $200 million of additional spending speaks to the seriousness of the risk to downtown New York City.  Republican or Democrat, people understand that it is an outrage to have the trial for this terrorist mastermind held in downtown New York, a place that has already suffered great trauma as a result of [Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s] actions”

Lazio was also critical of his potential opponents in the governor’s race, Governor David Paterson, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, for not doing more to block the trial.  He said that Paterson’s public opposition to the trial was “ineffective,” saying that the governor needs to be, “a relentless opponent of having these trials down town.”

“Governor Paterson should have been much more outspoken from the start, not just in terms of money, but in terms of the jeopardy created unnecessarily for the people of downtown New York City,” Lazio said.

But Lazio saved his most stinging criticism for Cuomo, who has not taken a public position on the trial.  “I find it puzzling that the chief law enforcement officer in the state has been absolutely mum on this,” he said.  “How [does Cuomo] expect to be chosen to a position of leadership without taking a stand on issues important to New Yorkers?"

Local Resistance

One local effort is taking place in lower Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which is represented by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, one of the Democrats that signed McMahon’s letter.

Marc Ameruso, Assistant Secretary of Community Board 1, led a vocal group of residents at last month’s meeting in specifically asking the board to withhold its support for holding the trials in the area.  The resolution was ultimately tabled, but not before about a dozen residents of the overwhelmingly Democratic area spoke passionately about their fear and anger at the Obama administration’s decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and his 9/11 co-conspirators back into their community.  

Mr. Ameruso had strong words for Nadler, saying his signing of McMahon’s letter was politically motivated.  “It’s ironic that Mr. Nadler acknowledges that this neighborhood will have to be locked down, that we will have to relive the experience of September 11th, but yet he is willing to put his constituency through this nightmare,” Ameruso said.  “He’s throwing his constituents, of which I am one, under the bus.”

Ameruso vows to reintroduce his resolution at this month’s board meeting.  He said that he hopes his resolution along with the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Day will, “wake people up.” “Holding this trial in lower Manhattan puts all of us in danger,” he said.