THE BLOG

Giuliani the Brave

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The outcry against trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists in New York has a strange flavor to it. The same people who tell us on a daily basis that we have to stand up to terrorism seem to feel that it's too scary to have them in an American courtroom.

Rudy Giuliani is livid at the very idea. "This seems to be an over-concern with the rights of terrorists and a lack of concern for the rights of the public," he told Fox's Brit Hume during a round of TV talk-show appearances.

This is the same man who hailed the conviction -- in a New York City courtroom -- of the terrorists responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He said the guilty verdicts demonstrated that "our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world," "that it works well, that is the place to seek vindication if you feel your rights have been violated."

Or maybe it isn't.

That earlier Giuliani -- let's call him the Kumbaya version -- was the New York City brand of Republican, the kind who believes in both tax cuts and gay marriage. When a Lebanese immigrant shot four Hasidic students in a bus on the Brooklyn Bridge 1994, that Rudy declined to label the shooting an act of terrorism and denied press reports that the shooter was a member of Hezbollah.

"This act of evil is not the act of a people, but it's the act of a person or persons. Let's
show America and the world that we can make that distinction, that we have not only the best of cities, but the wisest of cities," Giuliani said. [Years later, the government concluded the shooting was a terrorist act.]

Now Giuliani attacks President Obama for failing to label the Fort Hood shootings as a terrorist act: "He doesn't get the fact that there is an Islamic war against us," Giuliani complained to Fox.

Even as late as the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, in a Virginia courtroom, Giuliani said the proceedings showed that "...we are a free society, a lawful society ... that we have respect for people's rights and that we can have disagreements about whether the death penalty should be imposed on somebody like Moussaoui."

His only reservation was the jury's failure to sentence Moussaoui to death. But now, not even the Justice Department's stated desire to put Khalid and his cohorts to death has been enough to satisfy America's Former Mayor.

Trying Khalid in New York, Giuliani insisted, is a victory for the terrorists. It's exactly what the crafty Khalid had once requested! "He is asking -- he is asking for a trial in New York, and we're giving it to him. Since when are we in the business of granting the wishes of -- wishes of terrorists?"

Khalid has also expressed a desire to be executed so he can die a martyr. Under Giuliani's line of thinking, the government should therefore insist that he be given life. Or maybe permanent home confinement with an ankle bracelet. That'll show him.

On CNN, Giuliani was asked whether the trial would put New Yorkers in danger. He paused, chortled, and then said: "Yes, of course it would."

The earlier Rudy would have added that it was a danger the government would go to great lengths to minimize, and a danger that Americans ought to be prepared to accept as their share of the perils that our men and women in uniform face on a constant basis.

Instead, Giuliani veered off into an odd and unsolicited defense of his decision to fortify City Hall when he was mayor. The tiny building in lower Manhattan was turned into a kind of super-stockade back then, harder to get into than some prisons. It was, he told CNN's John King, an effort forced on him by the FBI and the Bernie Kerik-led NYPD. ("As if I wanted to keep people out of City Hall.")

That unscripted detour in the conversation points to a longstanding weakness in Rudy's attempts to portray himself as the nation's premier terrorism-fighter. Giuliani did not do much at all to protect New York City from attack before 9/11. And the things he did tended to focus on his own personal safety and convenience.

The city's emergency command center went up in flames on 9/11 because Giuliani wanted the facility located within walking distance of his well-defended City Hall. That's how the center wound up in terrorist target No. 1 -- the World Trade Center. That was why Giuliani was famously trudging through the streets of lower Manhattan following the attack -- he had no place to go. (At his side was the faithful Kerik, who reverted his previous role as the mayor's bodyguard instead of running the police department during these fateful hours.)

Now, in his effort to fight Democrats as fiercely as he once wanted to be seen as fighting terrorists, he is warning that New Yorkers can't handle the trial of a dangerous Islamic fanatic because it might be risky and inconvenient

Cynics might say he's trying to turn us into him.