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Originally published November 13, 2009 at 2:36 PM | Page modified November 13, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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9/11 comes full circle in New York City

Civilian trials for five 9/11 suspects are overdue, but the announcement is still a welcome restoration of respect for the rule of law.

REAL and poetic justice loom large in Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will be tried in federal court in New York City.

For all of the coldblooded brutality, the rule of law prevails and justice will be meted out according to fundamental principles of our Constitution and the laws and procedures that evolved around it.

That message resonates worldwide to friends and enemies alike, with the same intensity as the persevering spirit of those who survived the attacks in New York, Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Staging the trials asks a lot of the city that suffered nearly 3,000 dead, but the same legendary grit that helped New Yorkers recover and move on will be present as they face off with those accused of doing them epic violence.

Front and center will be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who claims credit for the plot to take over airliners and fly the planes into the World Trade Center and targets in Washington, D.C.

The trials follow a legal path in which elemental relationships of power in our country were tested. The Bush administration employed staff-written legal opinions to invest the president, as commander-in-chief, with sweeping authority to avoid scrutiny by courts and Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court pushed back, in particular on open-ended, secret detention of anonymous prisoners denied legal representa-tion.

As Holder announced civilian trials for the 9/11 suspects, he said others accused of a deadly attack in 2000 on the USS Cole in Yemen will be tried in military court. Seventeen sailors died in the attack.

The announcements by Holder move the Obama administration several steps closer to shutting down the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The prison site was selected to avoid U.S. law, and its closure is rich with its own symbolism.

From the contrivance of "unlawful combatants," to aid in the evasion of U.S. law, and the reckless embrace of torture, the worry has always been the erosion of respect for law in a law-abiding culture. The 9/11 trials, however belated, help restore that respect and expectation.

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