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Terrorism Trial Starts in NYC. Sky Does Not Fall.

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September 29, 2010

With the election season in full swing, Tropical Storm Nicole hurtling towards Florida and The Situation on Dancing With the Stars, you might not have heard that a major terrorism trial is about to commence in New York City.

Today, jury selection began in a federal district court in lower Manhattan in the case against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a man accused of involvement in the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania. Ghailani is the first Guantánamo detainee to stand trial in U.S. federal court instead of the flawed military commissions.

Ghailani was captured in 2004, and while four of his co-conspirators were charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to life without parole in U.S. federal court, Ghailani caught the eye of the CIA, which held him for two years and subjected him to its “enhanced interrogation techniques” at a secret CIA prison in Poland. (The same prison that held Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others accused of the 9/11 attacks). He was then sent to Guantánamo in 2006; he was arraigned in the military commissions in 2008. But then the case was kicked out of the military commissions and sent to federal criminal court—a move President Obama announced himself in his national security speech last May.

The government considers Ghailani a “high-value detainee”—hence the torture and company he kept in Poland. “Advocacy” groups like Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe have claimed that trying “high-value detainees” like Ghailani in federal court will invite more terrorist attacks.

But did NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly get that memo? Security at the downtown Manhattan courthouse where Ghailani’s trial will take place has been pretty much business as usual—a far cry from the $200 million New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said would be needed to try the 9/11 defendants here.

New York University’s Center on Law and Security reported (PDF) that in the eight-year period between September 11, 2001 to September 11, 2009, the government prosecuted a total of 337 terrorism cases against 807 people in federal criminal court. So Ghailani’s case this week is just another drop in a very large, uneventful bucket.

So, high-profile terrorism detainee? Check. High-profile trial in New York? Check. End of the world? Not so much.

Take action: tell President Obama to try the 9/11 suspects in federal criminal court.

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