Officials respond to prospect of 9/11 trial in Elm City

A report that alleged 9/11-mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed could be tried in New Haven has sparked a firestorm of opinions from city and state leaders.

After federal officials announced last week that Mohammed’s trial would not occur in New York, the New Haven federal courthouse has surfaced as one of the sites being considered by the U.S. Department of Justice. In response, three New Haven aldermen on Tuesday questioned whether the city would be able to handle such a high-profile case.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in a statement Tuesday that the federal government has not contacted the city about the trial, and 10 Justice Department officials interviewed Tuesday either declined to comment or said they did not know whether New Haven would be selected as the trial site. Still, the speculation has left some wondering: What if?

“It would be a world that New Haven has never experienced,” Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said.

He added that he is not sure whether the New Haven Police Department could provide the kind of security needed to deal with such a high-profile trial. (New Haven Police Department spokesman Joseph Avery could not be reached for comment, but Police Chief James Lewis told the New Haven Independent on Tuesday that he believed the trial would cause too much congestion for the city to handle.)

That said, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said he does not think the city would see a dramatic increase in traffic.

“If it has to happen in New Haven for it to take place, then I’d be supportive,” Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 added.

But Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino, the board’s sole Republican alderman, said she would oppose holding the trial in the city because it could put a excess burden on the city’s taxpayers in the form of increased security and increase congestion downtown.

In statements released Tuesday, Connecticut’s senatorial candidates — including Republican Linda McMahon, the former Chief Executive Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, and Democrat Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, the state’s attorney general — spoke out against the prospect of a terrorism trial in the Elm City.

“If we hold terror trials in Connecticut, it will provide a public stage in our state for Khalid Sheik Mohammed to denigrate the United States and justify the 9/11 attacks,” McMahon said, adding that Mohammed should be tried in a military tribunal.

Aided by the FBI and CIA, Pakistani authorities arrested Mohammed in the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in 2003. He was then reportedly taken to an undisclosed location and interrogated by U.S. intelligence officials. He is currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Memos released by the Obama administration last April revealed that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in efforts to compel him to divulge information.

On Nov.13, the Obama administration announced that Mohammed would be tried in federal court in lower Manhattan. But on Friday, facing a chorus of protests from city, state and national politicians, the Justice Department had abandoned its plans to try Mohammed in New York and started considering alternative sites.

New Haven recently had another terrorism trial: In April, former Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad was convicted in the city’s federal district court for providing classified military intelligence to an al-Qaeda-connected Web business. He was sentenced at the time to 10 years in federal prison.

Alon Harish contributed reporting.


  • townie

    It was a mistake for Mike Jones to weigh in on this issue. As an alderman he represents New Haven residents and this is a far bigger issue that should be opined about by someone who won’t be here long enough to bear its effects.

  • NEVER seen?

    “Like the city has NEVER seen?” What about the Black Panthers of the 1970’s?
    Where is William Sloane Coffin when we need him? Doonesbury will have a field day.


  • PS to NEVER seen

    Between Westerfeld and this you might as well paint a giant bulls-eye on New Haven (my tired old birthplace).


  • Recent Alum

    Let’s just hope that the jury will not be comprised of Yale Law School faculty members.

  • No Way

    Yale is on Iran’s enemy list. Now it will on al qaeda’s list. Add to that the amount of murders and other brutal crimes on campus that have received world wide attention recently.

  • Concerned Parent

    If this trial is held in New Haven, my student will transfer from Yale post haste, and prospective students will avoid applying…………..

  • y11

    We’d better hope this is nothing like the Black Panther trials, otherwise these guys are all going to walk.

  • Rule of Law

    This whole thing is ridiculous. KSM should be tried in New York where he murdered his innocent victims. His civilian trial will be a great opportunity to hear him spout his inane babble of hatred and show the world just how brain dead al-Qaeda’s ideology truly is.

  • Todd

    Why are we so afraid of these guys? We’ve had trials before that went fine. I think people are basing way too much off of movies. What do you think is going to happen? Are the terrorists going to launch some kind of rescue operation? Are they going to exact their revenge on the judicial system? Is there any precedent that leads us to believe terrorists are particularly irked by trials? From what we’ve seen of Islamic terrorism in America, terrorists want to kill and scare Americans, but as people who don’t value their own lives, they also don’t seem to care much for those of their comrades. They just want to kill; they clearly don’t give a damn about their fellow terrorists. Why are we being such cowards? If we can’t even have this stupid trial we’re just showing how much power they have over us.

  • frg

    With the amount of extra security this will bring to the downtown area, New Haven will be safer than it has in decades. If not, maybe we can have the trial in PK’s house since he apparently has an opinion on everything. Other than that, no need to run around hysterically.

  • Been around awhile

    If we can try Black Panthers and New York mafiosi here, why not Al Qaeda?

  • Native

    You ARE having it in my house; I was born there. My parents kept a home there until 1992. I will be buied there.
    It has become a tired city housing a tired university.
    As Duncan says of Scotland in Macbeth: “It is not our mother but our grave.”

    Even before the Wseterfeld controversy, even before this obviously money-motivated judicial opportunity, these words of Shakespeare have all too sadly described the violence in New Haven, and even more sadly, Yale—(with three student murders in the last 25 years alone).

    I wouldn’t live there again if you paid me.

    M.Div. ’80

  • I don’t get it

    Why are people (like “concerned parent”) so afraid of some guy who has already been captured, standing trial? It’s not like he’s a virus or something that might spread if let out in the open.

    And it’s not like all the previous terrorist trials have caused any serious difficulties for any of the cities that have held them (including New York).

    New Haven can handle it! Seriously. People need to chill out.

    Don’t let the terrorists win by treating them as though they are some kind of science fiction super-monsters we can’t be anywhere near without fear.

  • Ferny

    I’d be proud that New Haven is a city that doesn’t fear some silly man with a silly ideology.

  • Townie2

    (OOPS- THIRD REWRITE __ GRAMMAR ERROR Please post his rewrite instead)

    I wonder if certain court districts are being considered in Obama strongholds. He needs sympathetic solidly Democratic Party districts to turn to for this because no one wants to host this trial.

    New Haven certainly would be that.

    I also wonder how they can just move it to any district that will take it – what about the venue statute? What about the court’s jurisdiction? I wonder, does national security trump all that? How do they argue it into any particular court? The crime occurred in NYC.

    Chief Lewis is the voice of reason here. It would overwhelm New Haven.

    The closest jail that can handle the defendant is where, in northern Connecticut? The state pen in Cheshire? The federal women’s pen in Danbury? The courthouse holding tanks?

    I also think some of the personnel at that courthouse are totally not up to snuff. They harrass the press and engage in idle stupidities. Can they grow up fast enough to attend to real issues? Or be identified and switched out by leadership? I really doubt it.

    The other trial dubbed a terror trial held here drew almost no attention aside from a couple of local reporters. It’s not an example to look to to evaluate the impact of this trial.

  • Todd

    “The closest jail that can handle the defendant is where,”

    We’re not talking about Magneto here.

  • Tanner

    Is this a ploy to waste “stimulus dollars” double overtime for NHPD, subsidies to local businesses due to lost income because except for the media hordes, and I know they are extremly cheap with their own money. Oh and I’m sure the lawyers comming in from Chicago (from Holders old firm) will become the highest paid public defenders in history. And I’m sure the welcome will be short when New Haven see’s the Green closed for security reasons.
    Great analogy Ferny a lot of silly men with silly ideoligies have packed alot of damage in their vests.
    To Recent Alum glad you got out unscathed.

  • Salt those wounds

    Let’s spread the aggravation around. Westerfeld was enough salt in wounds publicly declared as having been opened.

    New Haven doesn’t have to do double duty.

    Send him to Obama’s home: Maui. The terrorists won’t have to travel so far.

    It will make mainland air travel safer.

    M. Div’80