Video: Bringing terror suspects to U.S. soil

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    >>> new york, and i want to see them brought to justice. the most important thing for me is that, you know, they pay the ultimate price for what they did to us on 9/11. and if the attorney general and veteran prosecutors think this is the best way to achieve that outcome, then i think that, you know, they should be given the right to move forward as they see appropriate.

    >> well, that was secretary of state hillary clinton in a very strong appearance yesterday on "meet the press." good did the obama administration make the right call, and should they send guantanamo prisoners to illinois ? we have two people from illinois , jan she could you ski is a democrat from chicago, and judy big gert is a republican from somewhere else . let me go with congresswoman shikowski. are you confident this is the right move to bring these guys, khalid sheikh mohammed and the other four to trial in new york in criminal court and prosecute them, perhaps convict them, perhaps execute them after the trial? is that the smart move?

    >> absolutely. i think to say anything else is to pander to irrational fears, and actually, it's insulting to our law enforcement and judicial system , the professionals that work there. there are already 216 individuals who have been convicted of terrorist-related activities in the united states , in if federal prisons , and we certainly could use prosecutions of those individuals, and we also could use the jobs in thompson, illinois .

    >> let me go to congresswoman b biggert , do you think it's the right thing to do to try these people in criminal court ?

    >> no, i don't think it's the right thing to do. that's why we had the military tribunals . when we had them come into the united states , they are granted the same rights as citizens, or those that are here on a permanent visa. and that's not right, because it's going to change the whole way an enemy combatant is tried. whether it's going to happen with the miranda rights , what's going to happen with our secrets with the cia and how they operate? what's going to happen with all of the things that we're going to give up? is the witnesses and the jurors, are they going to be subject to reprisals in f they're in on this jury. i think this is the wrong way to go.

    >> back in the early part of our country, i want to go back to -- stick to congresswoman biggert for a second and see if she is consistent here. back in the beginnings of our country, we had a trial for the soldiers involved in the boston massacre , and we gave those soldiers a real trial, and john adams was their defense attorney . and a lot of them got off. do you think that was a mistake to give them a real trial, or should we just have executed them? what should we have done?

    >> well, i'm talking about having a real --

    >> was it wrong to give -- was it wrong to give a real trial to people who shot down our people in the boston massacre , or was that a good emblem of the kind of country we're going to be, a country of laws? john adams was their defense lawyer . should he not have taken that job, not defended the enemies of this country and shown a good system of law in this country, was that a mistake?

    >> yes, but they were involved in the boston massacre that was on this soil. we're talking about bringing in enemy combatants that were international, that they were not here bringing them in for the trials. we have -- we're at war. we have war criminals , and we should try them with the military tribunal , as we always have done.

    >> where did khalid sheikh mohammed go to college. congresswoman biggert , stick on this point. where did he go to college?

    >> probably harvard.

    >> no, khalid sheikh mohammed . where did he go to college?

    >> i don't know.

    >> when he went to school, he got his degree in north carolina . so go on. congresswoman shikowski, make your point. i don't think it's as simple as rudy guiliani makes it sound when he's playing to the crowds. here is typical guiliani. let's listen to him playing to the crowds on cnn this sunday.

    >> first of all, it's an unnecessary advantage to give to the terrorists. i don't know why you want to give terrorists advantages. and secondly, it's an unnecessary risk to the city of new york , which already has any number of risks. if it was necessary, if this were the only option, well, of course, i would be in favor of it. it's part of barack obama deciding that we're not at war with terrorism any longer.

    >> congresswoman biggert suggested khalid sheikh mohammed went to harvard. i know what that means, it's the anti intellectualism of the american party , mindless talks. he went to the united states , speaks english, it drives me crazy somebody like that could be an enemy of our country. how do we properly try him? what's the right way for an american to try this bad guy ?

    >> you know, guantanamo bay has been such a blot on the reputation of the united states around the world that it has also been a recruiting tool for terrorists. i think the fact that now we use the best justice system in the world in order to try these individuals makes all kinds of sense. look, we were able to try zacarias moussaoui , the blind sheikh , and we have incarcerated them in had super max prisons, where there is no chance of their getting out. there is no threat. i think it's irresponsible to scare people in communities and to say that we cannot, the united states of america , cannot handle these individuals, and our justice system just isn't up to it. of course we can do it. we can give them a fair trial . look, we executed timothy mcvey , a domestic terrorist . all of the options are open for these international terrorists. and i think we restore our respectability around the world.

    >> i don't think that we're really talking --

    >> congresswoman biggert , your thoughts.

    >> we're not talking the same thing. you said have a fair trial . i believe we can give him a fair trial in the civil courts . no question of that. the difference is that even though khalid sheikh mohammed might have gone to school here, he's not a citizen, doesn't live here. but even the u.s. attorney general has already said he's going to be convicted. i don't see that that's fair. this is just grandstanding so that we can prove to the world what a wonderful judiciary system we have. let's get back to the basics. let's have the military tribunal where this belongs.

    >> what do you make of that, congresswoman shikowski? secretary of state clinton is a brilliant woman besides being a politician, and she said on "meet the press" yesterday, she said we're going to try and execute him, he's going to pay the ultimate penalty. it sounds like one of those old cowboy movies where we're going to try him and then hang him. if it we're going to hang him, why have we already decided that, that he's guilty?

    >> because that's what we do in the united states of america . and even the most heinous criminals who are arrested for horrible crimes like molesting children are given trials in order to hear the testimony. i think it's very important that we do that. but i think at the end of the day, all of the options -- i'm not for the death penalty , but including the death penalty , would certainly be available. there is absolutely nothing to fear, and there is no reason for us not to do that. and i think that we actually look better when we do do that.

    >> are you against the death penalty in these cases.

    >> i'm against --

    >> congresswoman shikowski.

    >> i am against the death penalty . i think the state committing a murder is a murder.

    >> thank you both, congresswoman shikowksi and big gs gert. next

updated 11/16/2009 6:55:38 PM ET 2009-11-16T23:55:38

Hot sauce and a comb were all an al-Qaida suspect in New York needed to nearly kill one of his guards nine years ago. The bloody episode suggests that security worries in bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 suspects to trial here could be just as big inside the courthouse as outside.

Already, the U.S. marshals are promising the highest security possible — an acknowledgement of how dangerous terrorism suspects have been in the past.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the 2001 attacks, and four accused henchmen would be brought from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to New York to face a civilian federal trial.

The prosecution is planned for a court complex just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed in the attack blamed on these men. The courthouse is among the most secure in the nation, ringed by closed-off streets, 24-hour guard posts, anti-truck-bomb barricades and street video cameras so powerful that they can read the print off a passerby's newspaper.

Intense debate over security risks
The Sept. 11 case would be the most spectacular of a half dozen major terrorism trials in New York that have already sent away the men blamed for the less devastating 1993 bombing of the trade center, a plot to blow up five landmarks in New York City, a scheme to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Far East and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Holder's decision to try the Sept. 11 suspects sparked debate over the security risks posed to densely-populated lower Manhattan, but far less has been said about attempted violence by the defendants themselves.

At the same federal lock-up where Mohammed and the others are to be held, federal prison guard Louis Pepe was attacked in late 2000 by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a former top aide to bin Laden who was awaiting trial in the embassies case.

Salim surprised Pepe by using a squeezable plastic honey bear container filled with hot sauce as a kind of homemade pepper spray that temporarily blinded the guard.

The inmate then took a plastic comb ground into the shape of a dagger and plunged it into Pepe's left eye. The point pierced deep into his brain, causing severe permanent injury to his sight, speech, and movement.

After the attack, prosecutors say papers found in the cell showed Salim's plan had been to take hostages inside the prison and free his co-defendants. While such a "breakout" plot may sound far-fetched given the security of the federal buildings, in Salim's case the very attempt nearly killed someone.

‘The prison is not very secure’
Salim's lawyer in that case, Richard Lind, said he had "mixed feelings" about Holder's decision, because while he believes the suspects should be tried in civilian court, he has security concerns.

"The prison is not very secure," Lind said. "Maybe things have improved since then, but I think it would be very difficult to manage."

Bureau of Prison spokesman Edmond Ross said: "We ensure that the facility is secure and is run in a secure fashion, but I'm not aware that any particular heightened security procedures are going to be implemented."

It is likely, though, that the attorney general will approve extra security called "special administrative measures" — reserved for the most dangerous prisoners. SAMs, as they are called, prohibit a defendant from communicating with other prisoners, the media, or anyone not connected to their legal defense.

When Mohammed and the others are taken from their cells to the courtroom, U.S. marshals will provide security.

There, too, the last major al-Qaida trial serves as a warning.

Suspect raced toward judge
During a pre-trial hearing, al-Qaida suspect Wadih El-Hage leaped out of a jury box that held several defendants and raced toward the judge, who maneuvered his tall black chair in front of him as a shield. The defendant was tackled by a deputy U.S. marshal and slammed against a wall next to an American flag, about a dozen feet from the judge.

The trial was held in a large ceremonial courtroom with its own security check — a sort of perimeter within the perimeter. Outside the building, heavily-armed marshals stood guard. When hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers Sept. 11, 2001, those same marshals rushed to the scene to join rescue efforts.

Jeff Carter, a spokesman for the marshals, said the agency will provide the maximum possible security. Both the marshals and Bureau of Prisons have "extensive experience managing the security of dangerous defendants and alleged terrorists in the U.S. judicial system," he said.

Even with extra security, some are convinced trial in a civilian court is a bad idea. The most high-profile critic so far has been former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said over the weekend the decision displayed "a lack of concern for the rights of the public."

New York Gov. David Paterson said Monday that holding the trial in the city "is not a decision that I would have made."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to calm any fears.

"This is nothing new; we've done this a lot," said Bloomberg. "Every time there's a high profile case, we provide enhanced security. A lot of it you don't see, but it's there."

Josh Dratel, a lawyer who represented El-Hage, said it was right to bring Mohammed and others to trial in New York, both for legal reasons and because, he said, "there's nothing that makes New York more of a target" than it already is.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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