Plea Agreements for 9/11 Co-Conspirators? In a New York Minute

With 9/11 suspects' guilty plea likely, Obama will have made one of the best political moves ever.


By Julia Piscitelli, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Trying the 9/11 co-conspirators in NYC is brilliant politically, judicially, and simply the right thing to do. Let the justice system work, in the light of day, in front of the families, the country, and the world.

Fred Barnes and I debated the issue Saturday on Fox News. Mr. Barnes regurgitated Republican Party talking points about the need for the trial to be in a military court to protect national security secrets, to avoid creating another potential terrorist target, to not provide a public platform for the terrorists, and the bogus idea that the 9/11 co-conspirators are being treated as "common criminals." The Republicans are making it sound like they are being sent to traffic court. Rapists, mass murderers, and terrorists have all been tried and convicted in this federal court.

These could become real concerns if a full trial were to be held in New York City. But I don't think there will be a trial, as I said on Saturday.

Attorney General Eric Holder has worked for 30 years in the federal legal system, and I don't believe that he would have made this move unless he has aces left to play. Mr. Holder spoke with great confidence about not only providing these five defendants a fair trial in New York City, he was also confident about convicting them. If the trial becomes a circus, is declared a mistrial, or if there is an acquittal, this holds the potential to be Obama's "Mission Accomplished" moment.

So why is the attorney general so confident that both can be accomplished in New York City? A logical reason is that there is already a plea agreement in place. If the 9/11 conspirators stand up in a New York City courtroom and plead guilty on their first hearing date, effectively, they would be convicted. And Obama will have made one of the most brilliant political moves of all time.

If a plea agreement is in place, once the defendants enter their guilty pleas, the U.S. attorney has no further obligation to introduce evidence of the defendants' guilt. The defendants waive the right to raise most objections to investigatory, prosecutorial, or judicial behavior that could have been used on appeal after a trial and conviction. Convicted in a civilian court, blocks away from Ground Zero, and for the entire world to see. All without a single secret or investigative technique divulged, no circus, just justice.

This move highlights the contrasts between the Obama administration and the cloak of secrecy and distrust that surrounded the George W. Bush administration. It also furthers President Obama's argument that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay can be closed swiftly in a safe and effective manner.

Holder and President Obama are acutely aware of the potential damage to the country and to the administration that could result from any misstep during a criminal trial in NYC. What better way to avoid that then obtain guilty pleas and go directly to sentencing?

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