NEW YORK — For more than a year, New York City officials complained loudly about the hundreds of millions of dollars that security for a Sept. 11 trial would cost. Their public lobbying torpedoed the plan to ever bring the suspects to a U.S. court.
On Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it "more appropriate" to try avowed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal.
"While we would have provided the security if we had to here in New York City, you know – being spared the expense is good for us," he said.
But the expense went well beyond the cost of security – the mayor and local business leaders said the city would have lost business for years if it had to barricade its downtown to protect the suspects.
"Holding the terror trials in Lower Manhattan would have undermined the progress and rebuilding of this neighborhood, and it would have eroded the economic development efforts and successes over the last 10 years," said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York.
Attorney General Eric Holder shelved the plan as other locations were considered. In the meantime, Congress passed legislation that prohibits bringing any detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States. Holder called those congressional restrictions unwise and unwarranted and said a legislative body cannot make prosecutorial decisions.
But the restrictions were unlikely to be repealed soon and the victim's families should not have to wait any longer, Holder said.
New York officials reiterated Monday that they were ready and able to host the trial if it had come to that.
"We were prepared to handle it," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "It would have cost a lot of money. Because we're down 6,000 police officers, everything we do requires overtime."
The estimated cost of the security plan – $216 million for the first year of the trial, and about $200 million in subsequent years – was based almost entirely on overtime for officers. It included beefing up security around the entire city at landmarks, and also in major transportation hubs because the city could be seen as a terrorist target, police officials said.
"We had to make the assumption the trial would inspire additional plots against the city," said Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department.
The plan included blocking off vehicle access to several streets near the courthouse and setting up checkpoints for residents and people working in the area. But the number of officers stationed there would've depended on the day, whether court was in session, and what protests, if any, were going on nearby.
Kelly said Monday the department supports the move to a military commission, calling it "a wise decision."