United States Court House in Lower Manhattan (photo by wallyg)

United States Court House in Lower Manhattan (photo by wallyg)

MSNBC has quite a scoop [now confirmed and expanded upon by numerous sources, including Marcy]; they are reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce that “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court”:

Mohammed and the four others — Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — are accused of orchestrating the attacks that killed 2,973 people on Sept. 11, 2001

I think I know why they are being sent to the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

USAO SDNY was the first US Attorney’s Office to open a dedicated anti-terror unit. That unit was the brainchild of Dave Kelly and was started with Kelly and Pat Fitzgerald as co-unit chiefs. Mary Jo White was US Attorney at the time and really gave the unit a lot of support.

After the murder of Meyer Kahane, of the Jewish Defense League, documents and other physical evidence belonging to El Sayyid Noasair indicated that there was a wider plot to kill other prominent people and to blow up American landmarks. Initially, the plot seemed too over-the-top to be believable, an act of fantasy by a disturbed mind.

However, after much memo writing to DOJ, SDNY was able to begin an investigation to see if any of these plans were even feasible. It turned out that not only were many of these plans feasible–they would work from a demolitions and engineering standpoint–steps had been taken by other individuals to implement these plans. Understand, this investigation took years and years to do and, as far as I know, is probably still ongoing.

During this investigation, the first WTC bombing happened in 1993. The work of the SDNY counter-terror unit and the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), in unraveling the threads of these plots, made identification and conviction of the plotters possible. It also made possible the disruption of the Millennium Bomb Plot set for 2000, and the “day of terror” plot in which the Blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rachman planned to blow up all of New York City’s bridges and tunnels (he had some weird idea that blowing up the tunnels would somehow flood Manhattan).

As a result of all of this, SDNY has evidence rooms full of stuff about the various plots. Including a plot called “Bojinka,” which involved blowing up planes, and a laptop belonging to Ramzi Yousef with plans and airline schedules.

All of this evidence is untainted by what happened in Guantanamo. I’m not saying that there will not be issues relating to GTMO that affect this upcoming trial, however, SDNY has the biggest and best storehouse of what should be admissible evidence relating to these men.

Not inconsequentially, SDNY also has a U.S. Marshall’s Office and District Executive’s Office (the DE runs the federal courthouse) that know how to do the security for these kinds of trials, which is a valuable life skill. And New York has a cadre of judges who are familiar with how to handle these trials because there have been so very many terrorism trials already held in SDNY.

Still, I’m thinking that the decision to try it here has mostly to do with all that lovely stockpile of non-Guantanamo-tainted evidence.