- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nearly two weeks after the Obama administration announced its intention to prosecute professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow defendants in civilian court, family members of the terrorist attack’s victims remain sharply divided on the issue.

On Dec. 5, a group including Sept. 11 victims and family members plans to hold a rally protesting the administration’s decision. The rally is being joined by a “tea party” movement affiliate, a sign that the conservative protest network is expanding its scope of issues.

The rally is scheduled in Foley Square, the Lower Manhattan site of the federal courthouse chosen to hold the trials of the purported Sept. 11 conspirators.

The 9/11 Never Forget Coalition, the group organizing the rally, said an online petition to stop the trials has already garnered 120,000 signers, and a letter signed by 300 Sept. 11 families protesting the decision has been sent to President Obama and other top administration officials.

“This trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom,” Debra Burlingame, whose brother was a pilot killed in the attacks, said during a news conference Tuesday. “When we grant a confessed war criminal access to due process so that he can use it to rally his fellow terrorists to kill more of our citizens and to target our military, that’s jihad.”

A group called Tea Party 365, whose co-founder organized the first tea party protest in New York, said it also plans to participate in the rally. Kellen Giuda also sits on the board of directors of Tea Party Patriots.

But Ms. Burlingame’s opinion is not shared by all Sept. 11 families.

With the terrorist attack claiming nearly 3,000 victims, it would be impossible to reach a consensus among all the families involved, said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband was killed in the attack. Ms. Gabrielle and other family members have been outspoken in their support for the administration’s decision.

“I don’t understand what the frenzy is. We’ve done it before, and we’ve done it successfully,” she said of prosecuting terrorism suspects in federal courts.

Despite their differing opinions, Ms. Gabrielle said she supports the rights of Ms. Burlingame and others to protest the administration’s decision.

“What I have a problem with is the fear they are basing it on,” Ms. Gabrielle told The Washington Times on Wednesday. “You’ve got to speak from a voice of reason.”

Ms. Burlingame and other opponents of the trial say bringing terrorism suspects to New York City is ill-advised and dangerous. They worry the trials will be costly, could make New York City susceptible to an attack and give Mohammed and his four fellow defendants a forum to spout jihadist rhetoric.

It’s a concern shared by many Republican members of Congress. And various recent polls, including from Fox News and CNN, show more Americans would prefer Mohammed be tried in a military tribunal than in a civilian court.

But in an appearance on Capitol Hill last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. remained resolute. Mr. Holder, who made the decision to hold prosecutions in federal court, said the move is in line with American legal values, and he is certain Mohammed and the others will be convicted.

“I have every confidence the world will see him for the coward he is,” Mr. Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m not scared of what [Mohammed] will have to say at trial - and no one else needs to be, either.”

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