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Ads in taxis urge New York trial for 9/11 suspects

By Monika Plocienniczak, CNN
  • Human Rights Watch commercials played during peak commute times
  • Ads feature New Yorkers from bankers to street venders
  • New York mayor wants trials held elsewhere
  • First Guantanamo detainee trial moving toward the final stages in a Lower Manhattan

New York (CNN) -- New York City taxi riders will have something more to watch on TV when taking a yellow cab. It won't be just weather, news or the latest trends on the hottest spots in the city.

The TV in the passengers' seat of the taxi is also a medium for what could be one of the city's biggest political controversies this week.

Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group, is putting a 30-second commercial in 11,800 yellow cabs urging the Justice Department to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other defendants in the September 11 attacks in New York City federal court, rather than before a military tribunal.

The commercial debuted Tuesday.

See the 30-second version of the commercial

The Justice Department did not have comment on the issue.

The man-on-the-street video features a number of New Yorkers, from bankers to street vendors, who directly speak to the camera and say: "I am a New Yorker."

The dozen New York residents show their support for the trials to be held in the city.

One man says, "I want to see them punished here." The commercial titled "It Happened Here" ends with an invitation to visit a Facebook page.

The video plays every couple of hours on TV during peak hour commutes and will run through Sunday.

A longer, two-minute version of the commercial is available on the Human Rights Watch website.

"It attempts to show that New Yorkers are passionate and want the trial to be here because it is where the victims are, this is where the trial happened," says Laura Pitter, a counterterrorism adviser for Human Rights Watch.

Pitter says that she was pleasantly surprised at how well the video is being received. "It is going smoothly without a hitch," she said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg withdrew his support for holding such trials in the city after businesses and neighborhood groups in the financial district pleaded with him to reconsider.

Bloomberg said he preferred the trial be held elsewhere, perhaps at a military base where it would be easier and cheaper to provide security. "It's going to cost an awful lot of money and disturb a lot of people," he said in January of this year.

CNN also reached out to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but they "play no role in the content or comment on the content providers," said spokesman Allan Fromberg.

The ads come as the first civilian trial for Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani is moving toward the final stages in a Lower Manhattan courtroom this week.

Ghailani is accused of helping to build a truck bomb used in a 1998 terror attack on a U.S. embassy in Tanzania, one of two embassy bombings in Africa that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.