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US Civilian Trial for Terror Suspects Sparks Debate

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to blast the Obama administration's decision to bring five accused plotters of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to New York for trial in a civilian court. Democrats say the decision is appropriate and furthers American interests.

Principal among the suspects is self-proclaimed September 11th mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose federal court trial would be held several blocks from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell.

Rudy Giuliani, who was New York City's mayor at the time of the attack, says the Obama administration's decision is a mistake.

"I do not understand why they cannot try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal. That also would demonstrate that we are a nation of laws. That is the way we have tried enemy combatants in the past, whether it was the Second World War or the [U.S.] Civil War. In this particular case, we are reaching out to give terrorists a [legal] benefit that is unnecessary. In fact, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when he was first arrested asked to be brought to New York. I did not think we were in the business of granting the requests of terrorists," he said.

Giuliani was speaking on ABC's "This Week" program. Also appearing on "Fox News Sunday", he said trying terror suspects in civilian court reveals the Obama administration's mindset about the threat of terrorism.

"What the Obama administration is telling us loud and clear is that the war on terror is over, from their point of view, is over. We are no longer going to treat these people [terror suspects] as if this was an act of war," he said.

Agreeing with the former mayor is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Peter Hoekstra. Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" program, Hoekstra said the court proceedings will be lengthy and painful for New Yorkers to watch, and will give terrorists a propaganda platform.

"The folks [suspects] that are going to be tried and their lawyers are going to try to use this opportunity to extend it [the trial] as long as they can because they wanted center-stage [to be the focus of attention], and they are going to want to keep it as long as they can," he said.

New York's current mayor and police chief have praised the decision to try terror suspects in their city as "fitting" and "appropriate". News reports quote several family members of September 11th attack victims as saying the trial will re-open a painful wound.

Defenders of the Obama administration note other terror suspects have been tried in civilian court, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" of the September 11th attacks, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2006.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island says a civilian trial will deny terrorists what they crave.

"[Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed wants to be considered a holy warrior, a jihadist. And if we try him before military officers, that image of a soldier will be portrayed by the Islamic community. That is not the image we want," he said.

Reed spoke on "Fox News Sunday". He added that the September 11th attacks were designed to shake America's confidence in its form of government and constitution, and that a civilian trial will show that the attacks failed.

"You are vindicating this country's basic values. Not to condone terrorism, but to stand as a symbol to the world of something different than what the terrorists represent. This is an opportunity to show that we are better than they are," he said.

Although trials always hold the possibility of acquittal, the Department of Justice says it is confident the terror suspects will be found guilty. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said prosecutors will seek the death penalty for all five defendants.