The first trial of a former Guantanamo detainee in a U.S. federal court began in New York City this week. With jury selection completed, opening arguments will begin Monday for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.
I attended the jury questioning on Wednesday, and it was just another day at court, with a second terrorism trial happening on a different floor. Outside the courthouse, there were no protests or demonstrations along the lines of what was staged by groups like Liz Cheney's Keep America Safe last December after the Obama administration announced it would try the September 11 co-conspirators in a New York federal court. In fact, Cheney and Co. were bizarrely quiet about this trial.
My colleagues from Human Rights First interviewed New Yorkers on the street in front of the courthouse as the proceedings began. The overwhelming response was nonchalance, indifference, or confidence. It was a far cry from the nightmare scenarios predicted by those who oppose civilian trials for the 9/11 defendants. Here's the video we released:
If you didn't already know the trial was going on, you'd never know that anything was different at all in the Southern District of New York courthouse and in the immediate vicinity. Sure, security was tight, but it always is. Observers had to pass through the usual metal detectors and check in their cell phones. It was business as usual.
In fact, although most New Yorkers don't realize it, there are now two major terrorism trials going on in the downtown Manhattan courthouse. In addition to Ghailani's, there's the case of four men charged with planting what they thought were bombs outside two Bronx synagogues, and planning to fire missiles at military planes. That trial, which hinges on the role of a government informant, has been going on for five weeks now without any safety incidents.
As this trial gets underway, you have to wonder what all the fuss was about. Civilian courts have convicted 400 terrorists since 9/11. Military commissions, 4. The trial itself has caused no disruption in lower Manhattan and is running smoothly.
I'll be headed to Guantánamo later this month to witness the military commissions trial of Omar Khadr. Instead of taking the subway to the proceedings, I'll be flown down and escorted by U.S. government officials to a facility that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and an additional $125 million every year to maintain. It just doesn't add up.