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.