In an act of local defiance, Community Board 1 in lower Manhattan voted last night to approve a resolution rejecting the Obama administration’s controversial decision to hold a federal court trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad blocks from the site of the attacks. The Board’s Executive Committee approved a resolution, first introduced by Assistant Board Secretary Marc Ameruso, calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to find another more secure location to hold the trial of al-Qaeda’s top terrorist operative.
Before a packed hearing room in the State office building across from City Hall, about a dozen area residents spoke passionately about their fears of hosting the trial and their anger at the administration’s decision, which many stressed was made without any input from the community or the city. Howard Levy, a lifelong Democrat who lives blocks from the federal courthouse where the trial will be held, chided President Obama. "If it’s such a good idea to hold these trials, let [Obama] hold them three blocks from his home and his family, in our nation’s capital," he said.
Other residents echoed Mr. Levy’s remarks, stressing the suffering that this part of the city has already endured as a result of the attacks. Vincent Imbrosciano pleaded with the board, saying that holding the trial in the neighborhood would perversely make prisoners of the families living steps from the courthouse doors. “240 families will be imprisoned. We will not have access to our cars, we can’t get in and out of the building, as we did on 9/11,” he said. “9/11 we heard it, we saw it, we smelled it, and we lived it. Now they’re going to make it convenient for the government to have war criminals — war criminals — in a civilian court.”
Toby Turkel, a resident of nearby Chatham Towers, said that she felt the administration’s decision was purely ideological — “to show the world what we can do in terms of a higher level of law.” “I’ve heard these things, that we have to show that the tactics of [President] Bush and [Vice-president] Cheney that we want to oppose — that we want to air them, those kind of statements. I’m very upset by [those statements], because we in this community, we stayed after 9/11. We should not be kicked around for another agenda.”
Jeanie Chin told the board that she was concerned not just for the residential neighborhood, but also for the apparatus of city government and the landmarks that are dispersed throughout lower Manhattan. “I believe it is totally outrageous that we would think of positioning some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world right in the middle of our local government, right next to police headquarters, a few blocks from the financial center, a few blocks from the new World Trade Center. Why would we do this?”
After public comment, Chairperson Julie Menin moved to debate two competing resolutions on the agenda. Menin, who had opposed debating Ameruso’s resolution at the previous month’s board meeting and had penned an opinion piece at the Huffington Post supporting holding the trials in Manhattan, reversed course and introduced her own resolution calling for the trial to be moved to uninhabited Governor’s Island, a former federal possession and U.S Coast Guard installation off Manhattan’s southern tip.
Board members seemed split, with some pushing to suggest an alternate location, and others preferring that the board call simply for moving the trial out of New York City. Board member Pat Moore sided with many of the residents, saying the trial should be held “in some secure location somewhere other than a residential neighborhood, and in particular a neighborhood that has suffered so much since 9/11.” Her colleague Noel Jefferson agreed. “I just don’t think that lower Manhattan is the place [to hold the trial], and although Governor’s Island is a good choice, it’s not as secure as I would like to see.”
Ultimately the board decided to merge the two competing resolutions, calling on the administration to remove the trial from lower Manhattan and suggesting Governor’s Island as an alternate location. One last point of contention arose over to whom the resolution should be addressed. Ameruso insisted that President Obama be named in the final document, but Menin and the rest of the board disagreed. The resolution was addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder with a promise from Menin to inform the president of the resolution by letter.
After the meeting, Ameruso was pleased. “It’s not as strong as I wanted it to be,” he said. “But as these things go we always have to compromise.” Ameruso was adamant, however, that President Obama should have been mentioned in the text. “The thing that’s lacking the most is the resolution was [not] addressed to the right person. [President Obama] is going to be the one to make the decision to take the trial away or not to take it away, not Eric Holder.”
The resolution goes before the full board for final approval next week, where Ameruso expects it to pass unanimously.
Community Board 1’s action comes amid increasing local and national pressure to move the trials out of New York and out of federal civilian court. Several prominent New York Republicans have signed a HUMAN EVENTS petition calling for military tribunals for Mohammad and his co-conspirators. Rep. Peter King, former Representative and gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, former governor George Pataki, and former Staten Island congressman Vito Fossella have joined more than 96,000 Americans in lending their names to the effort. Furthermore, newly elected Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown campaign hard against the Obama administration’s decision to treat dangerous terrorists as common criminals.
But to Ameruso and his fellow residents of lower Manhattan, the issue is much more personal. On Wednesday night they sought to make it clear to President Obama that they reject his administration’s effort to bring unwelcome visitors to their neighborhood.
Sign HUMAN EVENTS’ petition to Eric Holder to reverse the decision to hold the KSM – 9-11 planners’ trials in New York.