November 14, 2009

From the "fair and balanced" CNN, Wolf Blitzer filling in for Larry King plays concern troll for every right wing talking point out there on the trials of the suspected 9/11 terrorists being moved to New York.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation on the major decision made today by the Justice Department, the Attorney General Eric Holder, supported by the president of the United States, to try these 9/11 detainees in New York at a civilian trial. Joining us now, Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst. He's the best selling author of "Holy War Inc." and "The Osama bin Laden I know." Also joining us from New York, Paul Cruickshank. He's a terrorism expert, and an investigative journalist. He's a fellow at NYU Center on Law and Security, collaborated with Peter on the book, "The Osama bin Laden I Know." And Ron Suskind, a good friend, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and best-selling author. Books included "The One Percent Doctrine, Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11."

Ron, you have spent a lot of time thinking about what's happening right now. Tell us about the decision that the president and the attorney general made today.

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE": The president is, I think, finally trying to bring rubber to hit this road. You know, this has been a long delay. There's been great passion and anger and shouting inside of the White House, what do we do here? And I think what you see here is essentially the unveiling of a plan. We're going to have a public trial for the low hanging fruit, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 hijackers, for which there is a great deal of evidence. This should not be a difficult prosecution, at its heart, jurisprudentially.

And then there are others who are other categories that we'll get to. In a way what this is, I think, is a kind of demonstration model as to what America stands for, in terms of rule of law. And the fact is, you know, Mike Mukasey, the former attorney general, said something interesting. He said this is exactly the sort of pre-9/11 mentality. I think that these folks are not at war with us. And I think the president will say exactly, they're criminals. They should be treated as such.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, one of the arguments against this decision is that it will give these five detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these four others, a platform, if you will. They will express their Jihadist views. In the process, they will be able to recruit more followers. Do you buy that?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM EXPERT: I don't buy that, Wolf. Al Qaeda does have a platform now. It's called the Internet. Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden release a lot of statements on the Internet. This is one platform that the United States can control to expose their murderous ideology.

In terms of recruiting efforts, the last few years have clearly showed that Guantanamo, Abu Graib, extraordinary rendition have helped al Qaeda's recruiting. The return to due process will make it that much harder for al Qaeda's propagandists to do their work, Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter, the other -- another argument that is made is that this will once again make New York a target, and that al Qaeda will come after targets in New York because this trial has got a lot of publicity during the weeks, maybe months that it goes forward in a federal courtroom. And it will be an inviting target for terrorists.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, New York has always been a target. New York was attacked in '93, the first World Trade Center attack. New York was attacked on 9/11. Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan/American, is allegedly planning attacks on New York, who were trained in an al Qaeda training camp rather recently.

So The fact that there's a trial in New York is neither here nor there. Yes -- and, of course, there have been terrorists tried in this court room repeatedly. There are security measure that you put in place for that. This is not something that's unusual.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani made the argument today, and really blasting this decision by the Obama administration, that this goes back to a pre-9/11 thinking on how to deal with terrorists, sort of a criminal -- dealing with them as criminals, as opposed to terrorists. What do you make of that?

SUSKIND: The view inside the administration, and the view that has grown over the years, even at the end of the Bush administration, is to treat them as war fighters. This is a war on terror. Ignobles, lifts, expands the primacy the prominence of these terrorists. And certainly it's something that we have seen in terms of not just the recruiting energy that they -- that flows from them, but also their larger than life status.

What this will probably do is reduce them to human size and, essentially, to place them in the class of criminals, rather than people standing on principle as those involved in a war.

BLITZER: Paul, remind our viewers who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is. When we say he's the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11, talk a little bit about this man?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden, in the mid '90s, made a strategic decision that al Qaeda was going to start attacking the United States. And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed really was the man that worked out all the details, that assembled the team of hijackers, with another man, Ramzi Binalshibh, who is also going to be transferred to New York, who acted as a go-between between al Qaeda in Afghanistan the plotters in the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: So if he was that guy, Peter -- you know, I got a lot of e-mails today from people all over the country, saying, you know what, he's really a bad guy. He's boasting about the fact that he killed these 3,000 Americans. Why waste all this time right now, with what's going to be a long or deal of this trial?

BERGEN: The American justice system is the American justice system. We put people on trial for crimes they commit. And we have done this with terrorists repeatedly. Hundreds of terrorists have been put on trial in the United States. If they have committed serious crimes, they tend to get life without parole.

BLITZER: I guess the question -- I should have fine tuned it. Why not send them before a military commission, a military tribunal, where things, presumably, could happen much more quickly, and would be held in secret, as opposed to an open court room in New York City.

BERGEN: First of all, the idea that it would be held much more quickly is simply -- is just not the case. There have been 800 detainees at Guantanamo and only three have been convicted. So there's a conviction rate of less than 0.5 percent coming out of these military tribunals, point one.

Point two, civilian trials have worked for terrorists. At the end of this, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will either get the death penalty or life without parole. Life without parole, in his case, would mean to Colorado, the Super Max there, which makes Guantanamo look like a Sunday picnic. So whatever sentence is given I think will be quite useful.

BLITZER: Do you buy this notion -- the administration wants to close Guantanamo -- that If you bring 200 of these detainees to a Super Max penitentiary in the United States, or someplace else, that it represents a danger to America's national security?

SUSKIND: No, certainly not.

BLITZER: So many lawmakers say, not in my backyard; we don't want these guys anywhere near my congressional district or my state.

SUSKIND: I think folks around Super Max have already gone through their nimby issues, frankly. And if you've been to Super Max, I mean, there is simply nothing that anyone can fear living near that facility.

It's interesting because so much of this is being politicized. But the fact is there is coherence and general consensus among specialists in terrorism that this is probably the best way to go.

BLITZER: Let me pick you brain for a second, Paul, on Major Hasan at Ft. Hood in Texas. He killed 13 fellow Americans, and wounded a lot of others. Was this an act of terrorism or just some guy who went berserk?

CRUICKSHANK: It's sort of too early to tell. But what we do know is that he had contact with an American cleric based in Yemen. They had an e-mail interaction. This is an extremist cleric who is very pro-al Qaeda, who for a generation of American radicals has really been a guide. So that has caused a lot of concern. But it's very, very early to tell exactly what this is, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Paul Cruickshank, Peter Bergen, Ron Suskind. We'll continue this conversation.

Anyone else think Blitzer didn't miss any questions that came off of the RNC fax today for this interviw?

Can you help us out?

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