Can New Yorkers Be Impartial In Terrorism Case?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says his city is ready to handle the trial of the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. His comments followed the Obama administration's announcement Friday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others would be transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to New York to face prosecution. The city may be prepared to tackle the security and logistics of such a trial, but the emotional challenge may be more difficult.

Larry Corban passes by ground zero in a rush to get to band practice. The jazz guitarist was in the same sort of hurry on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He was down in the World Trade Center concourse, about to get on a subway train, when the first plane hit.

"All I could think was, get to work, time to get to work. I didn't realize that the world was going to change as we know it," he says.

It would be hard to find a New Yorker who didn't feel their world change that day. That's why Corban is so surprised that Mohammed, who has admitted to being the mastermind of the attacks, would be sent here for a fair trial.

"I personally think tarred, feathered, strung up and have people decimate the corpse — that's what they should do with that guy," he says. Doesn't sound like Corban will be able to serve on the jury. "No, definitely not," he agrees.

But how will the city find enough New Yorkers to form an impartial jury?

"To find someone to turn a blind eye to something like this and have an impartial point of view is next to impossible, I would think," Corban says.

Ground Zero is still a pit of construction — a daily reminder of the crime for millions of New Yorkers and the tourists who come down to see it. Jason Sype from North Carolina notes that the federal courthouse where the men will be tried is only a few blocks away. He's fine with the trial going on in New York, but he doesn't want Mohammed to be allowed to see ground zero.

Sype says he can't stand the thought of Mohammed looking on his work with satisfaction. "I would make him go straight to the courthouse and wouldn't let him see what had happened here," Sype says.

The tourists who fill the sidewalks around Ground Zero weren't too familiar with the name Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and it's no wonder. There are two temporary interpretive centers at the site, and neither talks about the hijackers or the planners of the Sept. 11 attacks, or why they did what they did.

Scott Justison, visiting from Chicago, says bringing the trial here could be important that way. People will be able to hear what really happened and have someone held responsible.

"You get that sense that we need closure in all these events that are tragic," he says. "I think that closure is what we're looking for at this point."

It's going to take awhile. It could be years before the case against these men goes to trial. And that's what has Wayne Simpson from Atlanta, Ga., concerned.

"Bringing him to New York is going to create too much of a circus around the event and the trial. Leave him where he's at, and let the military try him," Simpson says.

But the circus parade has probably already left the tent. The man accused of planning the most deadly attack in U.S. history could be in New York City within months. Larry Corban says every New Yorker will be watching.

"A lot of mental energy is going to be focused on this particular subject, based on the history of what happened."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.