Today is an important day in the annals of justice in New York. Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, and allegedly a spokesman and recruiter for Al Qaeda, goes on trial this morning in New York City. There is no lock down in the city, no closed tunnels or bridges, no special searches of public spaces nor of private homes. In short, New York appears to be as comfortable as it ever is on matters of security. If bin Laden’s son-in-law can be tried here without undue risk to the citizenry, then clearly any alleged Al Qaeda member can be. It’s time to empty Guantanamo and fill up 1 Center Street.
Mr. Ghayth is alleged to have said in a recording from June 2002, “Regarding our war with the United States of America, it is not over. It will not be over, because the battle between us and the Americans is not a battle of self-interest or a personal battle. As a matter of fact, it is a battle between right and falsehood.”
The recording’s transcript also has him saying that Allah “granted us a tremendous historical victory that broke the back of Americans. America must be ready and stand by and let them fasten their seatbelt, as we will strike them — by the permission of Allah the Glorified and the Almighty — where they least expect it. We do await that Allah afflicts you with torture by his hands or by our hands.”
Bloomberg notes “In the recording, Abu Ghayth refers to the Sept. 11 attacks and two other al-Qaeda operations — the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in which 17 American sailors were killed in Yemen’s port of Aden and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. In the earlier incident, 224 people were killed, including 12 Americans.”
Defense lawyers are all over this for a number of reasons, not least of which are relevance to the charges and the reliability and accuracy of the recording. That’s perfectly fine; it’s what a court of law is there to determine. It is not perfect, but open evidence in open court is the basis of justice.
And that is a justice that has been denied the victims of the Al Qaeda murders of September 11, 2001. One tries not to become a bore about such things, but in truth, any other murder in America is dealt with as it should be. It is treated as a crime, and the community in which the murder occurred is the site of the trial. That is limited only by the defense’s right to a fair trial which is not always possible. In those instances, the case gets moved a reasonable distance away.
But the victims of the Al Qaeda murders have not had their day in court. The Bush administration stupidly and illegally has held the accused in a prison in Cuba, declaring them “unlawful enemy combatants.” They are not, and they never were. Those that are guilty are simply murderers — gangsters no better than the Crips, the Bloods, the Latin Kings or the Gambinos. Meanwhile, anyone who is innocent (and one must allow for that possibility) has been locked up without trial for as much as 12 years. The worry was that if they were given access to American courts and American rights they would somehow get away with it.
That is nonsense. The New York courts are as good as any in the land, and better than most. The victims and their families deserve justice just as much as those killed in the terrorist attack on Oklahoma City. This trial proves that it can be done. Justice demands that the government do it.