Mukasey: ‘very high’ risk of attack over NYC 9/11 trial
2009-11-16 0:00

By Josh Gerstein |

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said today that it is highly likely that terrorists will attack New York City as a consequence of the Obama administration's decision to send five alleged Sept. 11 plotters there for trial in federal court.

During a question and answer period following a speech to a conservative legal group, Mukasey was asked about the possibility that there might be an escape by one or more prisoners.

"The [Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan] is a very secure place....Is it secure? Of course, it’s secure. They’re not going to escape," Mukasey told a conference of the Federalist Society. "The question is not whether they're going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility, but the city [at] large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--whether this raises the odds that it will. I would suggest to you that it raises them very high."

Mukasey said the men now to be tried in New York should have been left before military commission proceedings at Guantanamo that were already in progress.

"The plan seems to be to abandon the view that we’re in a war," Mukasey said. "I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I certainly can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. And it think it would have been far preferable to try these case in the venue that Congress created for trying and where they were about to be tried."

Mukasey, a former federal judge who oversaw cases relating to the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, warned that a civilian court trial for the Sept. 11 plotters could produce " a cornucopia of information for those still at large and a circus for those still in custody."

However, despite his warnings about a terrorist attack on New York, Mukasey said he thought the legal system could carry out a fair and successful trial. He also said finding impartial jurors would not be much of a problem.

"Understand, I am a partisan of the Southern District of New York. I know of no jurisdiction where you could get people who are better prepared to deal with it, and that includes prosecutors, judges and jurors," he said. "But saying that, if you have to do it any place, that is a place to do it, is not the same as saying and should not be construed by anybody as saying that’s what I think should be done, because it isn’t."

Mukasey portrayed the idea of civilian trials as a reckless "social experiment" that the nation was likely to regret.

"If I thought that I or my family or my fellow citizens had three lives to live, I suppose I could be persuaded that we should live one of them as a social experiment to see whether the result here is one that we want to live with. But I don’t and they don’t and you don’t," he said. "It would take a whole lot more credulousness than I have available to be optimistic about the outcome of this latest experiment."

At a news conference this morning announcing the administration's decision, Attorney General Eric Holder disputed claims that having a 9/11-related trial in New York would endanger New Yorkers.

" New York has a long history of trying these kinds of cases," Holder said. "New York has a hardened system. We have talked to the Marshal Service there. An analysis was done about the capabilities that exist in New York, and I'm quite confident that we can safely hold people there, that we can protect the people who surround the courthouse area, and bring these cases successfully. So I don't think that that criticism is factually based."

Mukasey's remarks were viewed via a C-SPAN recording posted here.

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