The attacks brought Americans together briefly, but the aftermath is still sowing division--as the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to try five of the 9/11 terrorists in lower Manhattan brings conflict and confusion.
On the surface, it's hard to argue with Holder's logic: "After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York--to New York--to answer for their alleged crimes, in a courthouse just blocks away from where the twin towers once stood."
A New York Times editorial calls the decision "an enormous victory for the rule of law, a major milestone in Mr. Obama’s efforts to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and an important departure from Mr. Bush’s disregard for American courts and their proven ability to competently handle high-profile terror cases."
But the Wall Street Journal focuses on the fear of terrorist reprisal: "Coming soon to a civilian courtroom blocks from Ground Zero: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other al Qaeda planners of 9/11. Be sure to get your tickets early, and don't forget to watch out for the truck-bomb barricades and rooftop snipers."
Beyond this conflict of idealistic symbolism and realistic fears, there are other uneasy questions:
How can such a trial possibly find an impartial jury?
How can it not be fairly called "a show trial" when the verdict is predetermined or, in the extremely unlikely event of acquittal, the defendants will face a backlog of other charges?
In an event designed to show American fairness and rule of law, how can it not also be a huge media showcase for the defendants' countercharges of torture and brutality?
In its way, the uproar over this trial may be a reflection of the larger conflict between Obama's hopes and his political antagonists' fears, but there is a case to be made for both sides.
In this instance, it's hard not to feel that there is something robotically correct about Eric Holder's decision that overrides legitimate doubts and fears.
He may feel he is using the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after World War II as a model, but there is a difference. They were held in a defeated country under secure military rule, and even then there was some American and Allied criticism of them as show trials.
The forthright Attorney General acknowledges he was influenced by his wife and "my brother, who's a retired Port Authority police officer...who lost friends and colleagues on 9/11 in the towers" and talked to survivors "about the symbolic significance of it."
Eric Holder wants to show the world that the rule of law can deal with those who kill innocent people for ideology, but he may be inviting another kind of symbolism--how the 9/11 attacks are still causing conflict and fear in America.