Commentary: U.S. legal system is capable of trying 9-11 suspects

The American system of justice has won an important vote of confidence from the Obama administration, signaling an overdue return to due process and the rule of law.

By deciding to move the trials of five Guantanamo detainees accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to New York City for trial in a civilian court, the administration reaffirmed confidence in a system of justice that has repeatedly shown itself capable of handling terrorism cases.

That's what happened with the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, and scores of other terrorism suspects tried in open court. Some 347 convicted terrorists are being held in American prisons after facing justice in U.S. courts, by the count of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

There is every reason to believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts will eventually join them. The obligation to stand trial in an open court of law is a defeat for the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who once expressed a desire to plead guilty in the military commission system established in Guantánamo.

Because the trial venue has been discredited around the Islamic world -- and among U.S. allies -- fulfilling his wish would have solidified his status as martyr on behalf of a distorted version of Islam.

Wisely, the plea was disallowed. Mohammed and the others will have to face a judge and jury, hear the evidence against them, and be given the opportunity to offer a defense -- all the features of a legal system that they reject precisely because it is emblematic of the rule of law and a civilization they despise.

Trying the accused conspirators in New York obliges them to return to the scene of the crime, a fundamental tenet of American jurisprudence. It gives the trial a transparency it never could achieve in Guantánamo and offers families who lost loved ones the chance to see justice done.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.