"New Yorkers are a bunch of pussies..."

>> Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Let me apologize to anyone from New York City--I'm just translating a talking point of the "Oh noes! We can't try a terror suspect in New York!" crowd, which consisted mostly of Republicans and their Fox News proxies until New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently joined them for some reason--so, hey, I'm not saying New Yorkers are pussies, your mayor is. I wouldn't know.

Actually, that's not true; if you check out the video I linked to in Sunday's post, New Yorker Jon Stewart talks about trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed near the rubble of the World Trade Center and, if he's convicted, executing him in the pit. As you know, I'm anti-death penalty, even for convicted mass murderers, but I respect Mr. Stewart's hardcore approach, which ironically contrasts with what appears to be the "hide him under the couch and hope everybody forgets about him" approach tacitly endorsed by Mr. Stewart's host, Bill O'Reilly. (KSM must be a scary man indeed, if the notoriously aggressive Mr. O'Reilly wants to hide him away--or perhaps Mr. O'Reilly's pugnaciousness only manifests in his own TV studio when he has an audience....)

Now, I have to say: it seems to me that New York has hosted trials of men who, quite frankly, are far more dangerous than KSM.

Let's face it, in decades of trying to kill Americans, KSM had one very good day; it was somewhat impressive that a 75% success rate resulted in more than 3,000 deaths. But let's talk about that 75% success rate for a second. For decades, since around the dawn of commercial aviation, there was a kind of tacit understanding between airplane passengers and crew and their hijackers: "We'll act like good little sheeple, you'll take the plane to Cuba, and we'll all have a good story to tell afterwards if you assholes don't get shot full of holes during the refueling in Miami." It was a reasonable deal, nobody moves, nobody gets hurt, fair enough. The only reason--and we know this because of United 93--the only reason the 9/11 hijackers were able to crash three of the four airplanes they hijacked is because they cheated; their entire plan depended on the traditional tacit understanding between hijacker and hijackee, and in a situation when the passengers and crew became aware that there was actually no deal, the passengers and crew rather predictably (to put it completely bluntly, cover your eyes if you have issues with plain language) fucked the terrorists' shit up, hard. Sadly, they gave their lives to do it, but it was the kind of ordinary heroism that puts me into a patriotic mood, and shouldn't be forgotten. I have no doubt whatsoever that the other passengers and crews on the other planes would have done no less if they'd figured out the scam in time; they were sucker-punched, pure and simple.

Now, I mention all this because there are people in this world who, like al-Qaeda, are organized criminals, only they're in it for money, not for some crazy ideology. And since, frankly, they grow up and live in American neighborhoods--commonly, in the popular imagination, certain neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey (and Chicago)--they are, as natural-born citizens, much better-adjusted to the American way of life (their way of life) than some putz who just got off the plane from Yemen or Saudi Arabia. And these people in organized crime, these "mobsters" are not nice, peaceable people: being criminals, they'll totally shoot somebody in the face or blow someone up. Hell, what am I talking about? Here's a guy from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who probably killed thirty or forty people all by himself before he was fifty by stabbing them a lot because he didn't like guns, so why am I talking about shooting people? (Okay, maybe Anthony Mirra is a bad example in a way--before he could be prosecuted, he was shot in the head by his own cousin in a Benz.) Here's a guy who personally "vanished" up to two hundred people with the help of a small gang of associates. (Okay, maybe another bad example--he ended up shot in the head, too.)

That last guy, so he was shot in the head, right? Didn't stand trial. But the guy who gave the order to shoot him in the head was prosecuted--in New York. And died in prison. And this, at long last, is the point: for decades, New Yorkers have been sending mass murderers to prison. Mass murderers with friends who live in the neighborhood, mass murderers with staggering fortunes to work with, mass murderers who are perfectly capable of making witnesses vanish one way or another. These guys, unlike the Republicans' apparent assumption about terrified New Yorkers, are serious badasses, and one would assume, I hope not wrongly, that the people who have put them in prison, including those sitting as judges and on juries, including those who testified for the prosecution at the risk of being hurt or killed by neighbors, are bigger badasses. You'd think, right?

Not, apparently, if you're mayor of New York City, or a Republican member of Congress, or a talking head on Fox News, or named "Cheney."

Hell, as Joe Conason points out in the Salon piece I linked to in the first paragraph, New Yorkers have successfully prosecuted actual terrorists, even guys who are less-scary and less-successful killers than the serial killers, mass murderers, thugs and sociopaths making up the American Mob. Mr. Conason quotes a CNN opinion piece by Peter Bergen and Karen Greenberg, which points out:

The courts in New York are unusually well-prepared to try Mohammed. Although the federal courts in general have a strong conviction record in trying terrorism crimes, New York's federal courts have won a 100 percent conviction rate on terrorism trials.

Before 9/11 as well, New York courts successfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for life the likes of the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman; the al Qaeda bombers who launched the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and the plotters of the first Trade Center attack five years earlier.

And New York City is now preparing for the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al Qaeda member allegedly involved in the 1998 embassies bombings who, unbeknownst to most New Yorkers, has been living in prison in the city for nearly eight months, without incident.

(I can't resist pointing out that, as far as I know, none of the men Mr. Bergen and Mrs. Greenberg allude to got stabby with up to forty people because they love murderizing people with death but hate guns. Sorry. Not sure if that actually has anything to do with anything or not.)

Personally, I think New Yorkers can handle it. I do. I think our legal system can handle it. If we can't, if New Yorkers can't--and this may be the most offensive thing about the Republican "don't do it here" talking point--we are all well and truly fucked. Have they--the Republicans and their pundits and now Michael Bloomberg and possibly, now, even the Obama Administration that's thinking about caving to the craven, I mean--thought about that? That if we can't handle a dude who gets lucky one day and hits three out of four targets through proxies who stood out at the time as kind of weird dudes, then how are we equipped to deal with mass murderers who grew up in Manhattan? And I've just been talking about the Mob; I haven't even mentioned biker gangs or drug dealers. Is our system so insecure and ineffective as all that, really? Are we so afraid as all that, that we can't face down bad people righteously and in public, plain view?

Is there more than a little irony in the fact that the people who say we are, are the same ones who like to boast of their patriotism and bravery when there's a camera on, who wrap themselves in flags (or pin them on their lapels--that's the in-thing now, right?) and question the American-ness of liberals like me?

Or is it merely a little ironic?


vince Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:26:00 PM EST  

As comedian Ron White has noted, you can't fix stupid.

Nathan Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:14:00 PM EST  

My opinion on all of this hasn't changed, so you've just reinforced what I already think about it.

The only thing that makes me have any second thoughts is the potential for the "security experts" to unnecessarily make all of lower Manhattan a no-go zone for the duration. But that's not a product of having the trials here; it's a product of overreacting to having the trials here.

Side note: You may (or may not) have noticed that all the talk about moving the trials to Governors Island just sort of quietly faded away. I know the place fairly well since I spent almost a month there shooting a movie. I'm guessing that someone finally pointed out some flaws in using the place:
-There's only one operational ferry boat that fits into the slips on the island. (The Staten Island Ferry's boats are too wide.)
-There's no potable water on the island.
-90% of the buildings on the island have toxic mold in the walls. Cleaning it up is a similar process to asbestos removal.
-Of the habitable buildings, the largest open space might seat 40-50 people -- without space set aside for things like a judge's bench, attorney's tables, court reporter -- oh, silly stuff like that.

There is an officer's mess hall which would fit more people, but while I was there, the plumbing kind of...exploded.

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