Sometimes, Giuliani should keep his anti-terror advice to himself

The former mayor, in slamming a decision to try a 9/11 plotter in the U.S., reminds us of his own mistakes

Published November 13, 2009 9:56PM (EST)

In this life, there are really only three things that are certain and unavoidable: Death, taxes and the fact that every time 9/11 comes up in the national news, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will rush to find a microphone.

He's certainly done so in the wake of the Obama administration's announcement that self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will be taken from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and brought to New York City for trial. A former spokeswoman for Giuliani said on Twitter that the former mayor will be on three networks -- ABC, CNN and Fox News -- this Sunday talking about the decision. On top of that, he's put out a statement condemning the move:

Returning some of the Guantanamo detainees to New York City for trial, specifically Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has now brought us full circle - we have regressed to a pre-9/11 mentality with respect to Islamic extremist terrorism. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be treated like the war criminal he is and tried in a military court. He is not just another murderer, or even a mass murderer. He murdered as part of a declared war against us – America.

This is the same mistake we made with the 1993 terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center. We treated them like domestic criminals, when in fact they were terrorists. In the dangerous world we live in today, a nation unable to identify and properly define its enemies is a nation in danger.

This statement took a whole lot of nerve. Because when it comes to lessons learned and mistakes made in the wake of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Giuliani is about the last person in the world who should be talking.

First of all, Giuliani himself celebrated the plotters' conviction in criminal court back in 1994, saying the verdict "demonstrates that New Yorkers won't meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon -- the law."

Moreover, as mayor, Giuliani was in a unique position to learn from the 1993 bombing and prepare his city for the next terrorist attack. He failed on both counts, with the most obvious evidence of his failure coming in the decision about where to place the city's emergency command center: He ultimately chose the World Trade Center, which had been bombed only a few years earlier. Giuliani has since tried to put the blame for this on his emergency management director, Jerome Hauer, but Hauer had fought for a site in Brooklyn before caving in to his boss.

Last year, the New York Times revealed a memo prepared by the New York Police Department that revealed the NYPD's strenuous objections to the choice. They had good reason to be concerned: On 9/11, the command center was useless, and -- despite what Giuliani says now -- it took hours for him to find a spot that could serve as a backup, Hauer's previous requests to build a secondary facility having been turned down.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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