Terror Trials in the U.S.
by Steven Emerson
Interview on MSNBC
November 15, 2009
Multimedia for this item
ALEX WITT: Well today on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as you might imagine, said she has no problem with Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try the 5 alleged 9/11 terrorists here in New York.
And for more on this decision, and on the defendants, we're talking to terrorism expert, Steve Emerson. Good morning to you again, Steve.
STEVEN EMERSON: Good morning, Alex.
WITT: Ok, so the strategy that these guys could take – what might it be? Are they going to represent themselves, use the trial as some sort of platform for their extremist agendas and then get to that whole Moussaoui-like soap box that we saw?
EMERSON: I think you're right. I think that they're going to definitely exploit this trial to either represent themselves and make it into a circus-like atmosphere like we saw with the Moussaoui trial, or they'll use their defense attorneys to basically rule out a lot of the evidence that would be introduced against them on the basis that it was not collected pursuit to the rules governing lawful procedure of evidence, such as the Miranda rights.
And remember that they were not arrested in – they were not arrested in forensically FBI ideal conditions; they were arrested under battlefield conditions. [This is] much more applicable to the Military Tribunals Act under which they were tried and which they plead guilty.
WITT: Ok. Khalid Sheik Mohammed: what do we know about this guy other than he was educated in North Carolina?
EMERSON: Educated in North Carolina, came back to Afghanistan, rose through the ranks of Al Qaeda, basically became the nuts and bolts guy for 9/11. When bin Laden basically vetoed aspects of the 9/11 operation, it was Khalid Sheik Mohammed who basically put into place the people on the ground who were going to provide the logistical support, the financial support, the military support. He was the nuts and bolts guy. He was the guy that made things work. So he was the key guy, Alex, in terms of effectuating 9/11 and, therefore, that's why he's being charged with the 9/11 operation.
The question really becomes whether it's going to stick – it's a calculated gamble by Attorney General Holder because of the fact that the rules of evidence may not be able to be applied in a procedure where, under the condition in which they were collecting the evidence, it wasn't collecting according to CSI, or according to the FBI forensic procedures. And if they are thrown out, then what happens then? If charges are thrown out against Khalid Sheik Mohammed – now maybe it won't be thrown out against mass murder, but maybe other charges will be thrown out, or maybe state secrets will be elicited from the prosecution like they were in the Moussaoui case.
WITT: But in terms of the throwing out part, I mean the possibility that they could get off on a technicality – KSM or any of his co-defendants. I mean there was a study that was done by NYU that said New York prosecutors have convicted 94% of terrorism defendants since 9/11, 100% in cases with domestic targets.
100% conviction. So it's hard to think…
EMERSON: Those are mostly pre-9/11 attacks and in the post-9/11 attacks, they were domestic attacks. That study did not include the 9/11 – the post 9/11 arrestees and, therefore, that's why the study is not applicable.
WITT: But then are you concerned that they could walk on a technicality or do you think that's unlikely – I mean really unlikely?
EMERSON: I think it's unlikely they're going to walk on a technicality. I mean, I think that it would be impossible for a judge to basically dismiss the mass murder counts – the 3,000 counts of mass murder – but, on the other hand, I think it could make it very difficult for the prosecution in terms of trying to force them to release secrets under discovery – information that they would want to keep from the defense and keep it from becoming public, as it was done in the Moussaoui case when they ran circles around the prosecution and really made a mockery of the prosecution.
WITT: Yeah, alright well that's something they're going to be watching very closely no doubt.
Steve Emerson, thanks for weighing in.
EMERSON: You're welcome.