Quakers and Shakers: Giuliani and Paterson Unlikely Bedfellows in the Axis of Anxiety

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Adam Hanft Political Columnist, CEO of Hanft Projects

Tough-guy enforcer Rudy Giuliani, and touchy-feely David Paterson are in unlikely and violent agreement: making Manhattan Ground Zero for the Khalid Sheik Mohammed trial is a very bad idea.

As the Times put it, "Giuliani said the trial would give 'an unnecessary advantage to the terrorists' and pose risks to New York. 'Anyone that tells you this doesn't create additional security problems, of course, isn't telling you the truth.'"

Now wait a minute. Wasn't it Giuliani and President Bush who encouraged us to go shopping on September 12th, who said that if we live our lives in fear, it will mean the terrorists have won? Didn't he argue that any fundamental change in our behavior would be nothing less than a wimpy concession to our fierce enemies?

Is it merely that the ex-mayor is looking to make political hay out of this, or is he honestly convinced that trying the "acknowledged mastermind" of September 11th less than a mile from the scene of the tragedy will widen our exposure? I'm no expert on the psychological motivations of terrorists, but I find it hard to believe that there's a guy in an Al Qaeda training camp in Waziristan saying "Well, if they tried the guy in Gitmo I wouldn't even consider blowing myself up on the V train, but now that the trial is in New York, I'm going to take out 14th Street."

New York City is already so much the locus of evil -- with streets overrun by Zionists, gays and women in cleavage-baring garb -- that no further damnation is required to make us destruction-worthy.

And here's the other intellectually unsustainable part of the Giuliani argument. If he is so concerned with not pissing off terrorists, then why doesn't he support the plan to try Sheik Mohammed as a civilian? After all, a military trial mitigates the defendant's rights, and gives the prosecution advantages it doesn't have in a civilian court. So if Giuliani's mission is to make New York safer, he should be supporting Eric Holder's decision to bring this trial to the Southern District where the Sheik Mohammed will have a "fairer" trial before the world.

Governor Paterson's argument appears to be less about the trial putting New York City in the global terrorism crosshairs, and more about the emotional consequences. He sounded less like a chief executive and more like chief shrink earlier this week:

"This is not a decision that I would have made. I think terrorism isn't just attack, it's anxiety and I think you feel the anxiety and frustration of New Yorkers who took the bullet for the rest of the country."

Thomas Kean, who was chairman of the 9/11 Commission, objects for a different reason.

"I worry a little bit about the decision, because it's what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wants... he wants to be a martyr, so I think he's going to use the trial as propaganda ... and I think he wants to be Che Guevara or something like that. He's going to try to be a hero to the Muslim world."

This doesn't make any sense to me. It's going to be a sensational trial, with unprecedented media attention no matter where in the world it's held. Mohammed will become a martyr because he's likely to get the death penalty; the venue for that sentence is incidental to his execution.

What does the public think? Well, in reporting on a recent poll the Times headlined their story "Many New Yorkers say 9/11 Trial A Security Risk" and began the article "Forty percent of New Yorkers believe the trial of accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed makes an attack on the city more likely ... "

That headline and lede combination are misleading; they could have headlined the story "Majority of New Yorkers Believe the 9/11 Trial Will Not Put City In Danger," which would have triggered a completely different reaction among readers.

I think the Obama administration made an appropriate and gutsy choice. Sure there will be security burdens on the city, but both Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are supportive of the decision. And I can actually imagine a scenario where we'll be safer than we would have been if the trial were held elsewhere. In that case, our exposure as a symbolic target would still be enormous, but we would be in the same amped-up state of vigilance.

Yes, the trial will be traumatic to some and cathartic to others. That's why news interviews with families of the victims show a wide range of opinion; it's impossible to secure moral and emotional unanimity on a decision that will blast open deep wounds and activate the irremediable pain of loss.

And yes, there's a risk that the trial will deteriorate into a more circusy spectacle in New York than it would otherwise devolve. But for me, this is the right place, the best place, and in a real way the only place for the government to make its case. To show the world that we are capable of justice and fairness in the most emotionally-charged location the trial could possibly be held in.

It takes a kind of courage to hold the proceedings here, a courage drawn from the same deep well of toughness and resiliency that New Yorkers showed the world during those dark days themselves.

And bringing back those horrific memories has its heuristic benefits. New York is a city that forgets fast and remembers forward. Already, we've stopped wondering if Wall Street can survive and started wondering how much this year's bonuses will plump up the co-op market. Stopping us in our tracks is a lesson that our hard hearts need.