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First N.Y. House Dem requests 9/11 trial to be moved

By Tony Romm

January 27, 2010

A New York Democrat on Wednesday urged the Department of Justice to relocate the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 suspects because "the needs of the community have not been properly taken into account."

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents Lower Manhattan, where the trial will occur, stressed the proceedings would have serious implications on "the lives of residents and the health of businesses in the neighborhood."

She predicted increased security around the courthouse would also deter visitors and make residents feel unsafe. While Velazquez did not suggest an alternate location for the trials, she nonetheless implored the Department of Justice not to hold it in New York.

"The current plan would create a fortress-like perimeter around the courthouse. Within this security zone lie two large residential buildings – Chatham Towers, a 240-unit building, and Chatham Green, with more than 400 units. For the length of the trial, life for the thousands of residents living in these two developments would be severely disrupted," said Velazquez, the first House Democrat to oppose the plan.

"Their homes would be surrounded by metal barriers, vehicle access would be restricted, and a visible security presence would be felt by them continuously," she added. "An untenable living situation would be imposed on these residents for several years without their consultation."

Velazquez joins a growing chorus of lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle who oppose holding the trials of 9/11 suspects in New York City.

Most oppose the proceedings on legal and political grounds. Some believe the suspected terrorists should not be detained domestically, as they pose security risks, and they would rather them continue their sentences at Guantanamo Bay. Others worry civilian courts are unequipped to handle trials of this magnitude.

Still others fear the process could cost the city well above $250 million, which New York lawmakers said they could not afford. A bipartisan group of lawmakers -- including Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Jim Webb (Va.) -- echoed that concern in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week.

However, Velazquez's concerns seem far less political. She emphasized in her letter on Wednesday that the costs to the community -- measured in lost opportunities, businesses and inconveniences -- were of the biggest concern to her constituents.

"I believe the choice for a trial location has been made in an extremely shortsighted manner and I would respectfully request that you explore the possibilities of moving the trial to an alternate site," she said to holder."