EDITORIAL: Schumer’s change of heart

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New York’s Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer just doesn’t know what to think about terrorism. He does, however, know what to say - whatever is politically convenient at the moment. That’s not what New Yorkers need to hear with the trial of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed about to land on the docket.

Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Schumer chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing to figure out how to legally handle terrorist suspects. While smoke still hovered in the air over Ground Zero, the senator was all about being tough. His opening statement included his support for not allowing prisoners of war captured in Afghanistan and other countries to receive the same constitutional rights as American citizens.

He said, “First, the government must have the power to use even the most sensitive classified evidence against these suspects without compromising national security in any way, shape or form. In addition, those who commit acts of war against the United States, particularly those who have no color of citizenship, don’t deserve the same panoply of due process rights that American citizens receive.”

Mr. Schumer scoffed at the idea of trying Osama bin Laden in New York City. “Should Osama bin Laden be captured alive … it is ludicrous to suggest he should be tried in a federal court on Center Street in Lower Manhattan,” he said.

What changed Mr. Schumer’s mind about New York City trials for terrorists complete with all the constitutional niceties? The Washington Times tried asking the senator face to face but the powerful lawmaker ran away.

His lack of cooperation aside, it is pretty obvious what changed is that in the days after Sept. 11, being tough on terror was good politics for the senator, but as the war on terror turned into a long slog, the political edge came from becoming a critic of Bush administration policy. So, Mr. Schumer forgot his old beliefs and came up with new ones.

This is hardly his only terrorism flip-flop. In May, the New York senator was blase about terrorism trials in New York City. “Bottom line is we have had terrorists housed in New York before.” Referring to the “blind sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, he said, “The main concern is bringing these terrorists to justice and making sure the public is safe.” But then came the chance to land a little pork, and suddenly the whole exercise was unprecedented and the city needed $75 million for terror trial security.

It is one thing for a Democratic leader to be stuck in a Sept. 10 mentality. That’s no surprise. Plenty of Democrats have long held that we should continue to fight terrorism as if we were fighting street crime. However, using the trial of a man who stood at the center of a successful plot to kill thousands of Americans as a convenient tool for attacking political opponents and landing a few extra dollops of pork should make even the most partisan Democrat deeply ashamed.

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