Skip to main content

Town of George Washington's HQ could be 9/11 trial site

By Wayne Drash, CNN
A woman strolls in Newburgh, New York. The mayor says hosting the 9/11 trial could boost the town's economy and cut crime.
A woman strolls in Newburgh, New York. The mayor says hosting the 9/11 trial could boost the town's economy and cut crime.
  • Newburgh, New York, is being considered as a potential site for 9/11 trial
  • "We've got nothing to lose," says Mayor Nick Valentine
  • County official: "I don't want to be known as the terrorist capital of the world"
  • Newburgh made headlines last summer after authorities say they foiled a terror plot

(CNN) -- Newburgh, New York, was a main military headquarters for George Washington during the American Revolution. More recently, authorities say, it was the birthplace of a foiled terrorist plot.

If Mayor Nick Valentine gets his way, the town of 30,000 will host the terror trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices.

"We've got nothing to lose," said Valentine, who also runs a tailor shop.

About 60 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, Newburgh struggles with poverty, unemployment and crime. In 2004, the town was dubbed the third worst metropolitan area in the country.

"Sometimes, we're the top five in crime, which is not a very good recognition," said Valentine, a lifelong resident. "We struggle with everything."

That's why, he said, the trial would be a boon for his town. The influx of security personnel would chase the bad people out; journalists and lawyers in town for the trial would provide a much-needed economic boost.

"People have said: If you have a trial, bad guys will come. My comment back to them: We've got bad guys right now," the mayor said.

Video: Gates on U.S. terror trials
Video: Congress on 9/11 court debate
Video: Sen. Lincoln on terror trials
Video: Spitzer on terror trial locale

"If I had a police presence here for an extended period of time, this place would be a safer place. And in the end ... the city of Newburgh would be up a couple notches than where it was before."

The White House has said it is considering changing the current plan to hold the 9/11 trial in lower Manhattan after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials expressed concerns about security, costs and disruption to the city.

Four alternative locations around New York have been discussed: Governors Island, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a prison complex in Otisville and Newburgh.

Three of the sites, including Newburgh, fall within Orange County, which lost 44 residents in the 9/11 attacks. The top county official is doing everything he can to make sure the trial stays out.

"I don't want to be known as the terrorist capital of the world," said Orange County Executive Edward Diana. "I don't want them here. Nobody wants them here."

This is one battle, he said, "I will fight tooth and nail."

"If I have to shut down roads, if I have to sue the federal government, I will do just that. ... That's my stance, and I will never back off from there."

Several senators on Tuesday lined up against a civilian 9/11 trial, saying that they would try to cut off funding for it and that it should take place in a military court.

Mayor Valentine said he would allow the trial in his town only if Newburgh received the estimated $200 million needed for security.

"If it's going to cost us money, then forget it," he said.

He also agrees with many lawmakers -- that the accused terrorists don't "deserve a trial like any other citizen in the United States."

"But if the president of the United States wants a trial, let me put together a jury of peers from the Hudson Valley area," he said.

The town recently built a $22 million courthouse, mandated by the state, and is struggling to pay its bills as a result, Valentine said. The federal funds would help get the town out of a mountain of debt.

Ever since he's spoken up for Newburgh, he said, people have been abuzz in his tailor shop. "Customers have come in saying, 'You give it your best shot.' " He added, "I've had a couple of negative, but very, very few."

The town has a diverse population -- 36 percent Latino, 34 percent African-American and 28 percent white -- with a median household income of roughly $30,000.

The town is the home of the 105th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard. Within its four square miles, there are 70 places of worship, including two synagogues and one mosque, the mayor said.

A tree planting last May honored a Muslim U.S. soldier from Newburgh who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The soldier, 1st Lt. Mohsin Naqvi, had signed up with the Army Reserve just four days after 9/11.

"We're a proud city," the mayor said.

Last June, four men, dubbed the Newburgh Four, were indicted in what prosecutors said was a plot to bomb two New York City synagogues and fire surface-to-air missiles at U.S. military planes.

The mayor lauded his law enforcement for its participation in that federal probe.

"We have challenges. We have risen up to challenges in the past. We're very formidable," he said.

Now, he hopes the town "where George Washington refused the crown" will have a new place in history: the town that sentences the 9/11 mastermind to death.