We recently noted with some chagrin that New York City was turning up its nose at $200 million in federal funds, and the opportunity to host the federal criminal trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 terrorists, because it might block traffic. So we invited Slate readers to nominate their own hometowns as alternative sites for the trials.
We are happy to report that most of you are indeed made of sterner stuff. After sorting through hundreds of thoughtful responses, we are delighted to announce that—assuming Attorney General Eric Holder agrees—the new host city for the 9/11 terror trials will be Detroit. Detroit garnered more votes than any other city, although Washington, D.C.; New York City; San Francisco; and Philadelphia were all close behind.
Why Detroit? A combination of practicality, pride, and desperation best captured by reader Casey Lowe. "First of all," he writes, "large swaths of downtown Detroit are already abandoned, so there is plenty of available space. Traffic and business will be unaffected because the city has none of either." Moreover, "if the proceedings are attacked, there will be minimal collateral damage to the surrounding area. To the contrary, the terrorists would be performing a useful public service by demolishing deserted buildings." As for the fairness of the trial, he notes that the metropolitan area "boasts the largest Arab-American community in the country," so the jury pool would draw from people unlikely "to reduce every Muslim we see to a jihadi stereotype." Lowe concludes: "We're the undisputed toughest city in the nation. Over the years, we've seen it all: riots, murders, mass unemployment. Yawn. There's nothing the terrorists can do to us that hasn't already been done. In a country paralyzed by fear, I'm proud that Detroit is the only city with the guts to say: Bring it on, Al-Qaeda! Plus, we really need the money."
Honorable mention goes to the following proposed trial locations and the readers who submitted them:
Bird-in-Hand, Pa. Alex Stamm explains that "if Mohammed is to have a chance at receiving a fair trial, then he must be tried by jurors that aren't going to be blinded by a bloodlust to avenge the September 11 attacks. We will only find such men and women in a place so remote, so removed from civilization, that they have no knowledge of the attacks. … Bird-in-Hand is home to just over 300 people, almost all of whom are Amish or Mennonite. Since these delightful folks shun (so to speak) television, they've never been exposed to incendiary commentary on the attacks or Mohammed. Ditto Internet." Stamm adds: "Think of how easy it will be to secure a town that has one road! Plus, can you imagine how many barns we could raise with $200 million?"
Salem, Mass. Peter Urkowitz calls the trial a "win-win" for this town north of Boston. "We're already famous for the manifestly unjust Salem Witch Trials, so we would love the opportunity to clear our reputations by hosting a new, fair set of trials," he writes. "Or if the new trials turned out to be disastrous, that would cement our reputation for unjust trials, which could only help our Witch Trial tourism industry, already our No. 1 economic driver!"
Wasilla, Alaska. Steve (he (?) didn't give a last name) suggests that if the KSM trial were to be held in Wasilla, "The national press can cover this trial and the Bristol Palin child custody hearings at the same time."
Upson, Wisc. Writes Kevin Peltonen: "Starting point of the illustrious Paavo Nurmi Marathon and home of Lipske's Bar/funeral parlour, Upson can provide all the seclusion and quaintness required in the trying of an infamous Middle Eastern terrorist.
Upson's townhall/dance hall/event center/school/storage shed can be the site of the trial, and a jury selection from one of Upson's 30 citizens will ensure a speedy and fair trial. Those paranoid conservative commentators needn't worry about a liberal bias here." Plus, Peltonen writes, "if the verdict is death, I'm sure there would be plenty of people willing to volunteer their deer pole."
* Niagara Falls, N.Y. Notes Lee Neville: "Escape by jumping over the falls and swimming to Canada is almost suicidal. Bonus: Even if KSM survived a jailbreak, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be waiting. Their unofficial motto: 'We always get our man.' " Neville also points out that "it would be counterproductive for terrorists to fly airplanes into the waterfalls because Osama bin Laden is an outspoken environmentalist" and that local "souvenir stands are not just shovel-ready but kitsch-ready. Sample: 'KSM got the death penalty but all I got was this mist-proof hoodie.' "
Rupert, Ga. As Dan Schooler Sr. explains: "WE HAVE NO POLICE FORCE AND NO JAIL BUT WE CAN GET A NO-MISS FIRING SQUAD TOGETHER IN ONE HOUR AND WE WILL SHOOT AND BURY THE BASTARDS FOR FREE. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS DELIVER THEM. LET'S KEEP IT SIMPLE." (Capitalization in original.)