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In Closing

bc law school magazine

Gil ChildersDeJa Vu

Gil Childers '81, the lead prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case, reflects on the events of September 11, 2001 (illustrations: Ray Barkus; photo: Todd Plitt)

"THE WORLD TRADE CENTER WASN'T SOMEHOW IMMUNE JUST BECAUSE IT HAD BEEN ATTACKED ONCE, IN 1993. I never anticipated an attack this monumental, though, and quite honestly I don't think the terrorists did either. In their fanaticism, they may have thought they could topple the towers, but I don't for a second think they had the detailed engineering knowledge to anticipate melting the structural supports with the fires from the airplane fuel."

"TERRORISTS TEND TO UNDERESTIMATE US BECAUSE THEY SEE US AS MORALLY AND SPIRITUALLY WEAK, AS LEADING LIVES THAT DON'T COMPORT WITH WHAT THEY BELIEVE. They see a lifestyle of weakness and vices and mistake that for a lack of determination and will."

"UNTIL SEPTEMBER 11, WE WERE THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT TREATED TERRORISTS LIKE ORDINARY CRIMINALS. The US had chosen to deal with terrorism mostly as a criminal justice problem. The government seemed content to identify, arrest, try, convict, and incarcerate people who carried out terrorist acts. And we were very successful in doing that. It was a testament to our criminal justice system, to our being true to its rights and values. It's absolutely inconceivable that any other country in the world could have suffered what we'd suffered and still put people on trial -- months and months of trials that cost millions of dollars, plus millions more to pay for teams of lawyers to defend the terrorists and then to give them appeals."

"WE'RE SO PROUD OF OUR SYSTEM AND ITS GREAT STRENGTHS THAT WE LOOK TO THE COURTS TO SOLVE THINGS THAT MAYBE THEY CAN'T. Perhaps we were asking too much of our criminal justice system to try to solve the problem of terrorism all by itself."

"WHEN I WENT TO GROUND ZERO, I HAD THE FLEETING THOUGHT THAT THE '93 TRIAL WAS WASTED EFFORT. BUT IT WASN'T. As a result of changes made to the buildings and procedures after '93, virtually everyone below the floors of impact and not trapped in elevators on September 11 was safely evacuated. Also after '93, new laws were promulgated for terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Cases that followed made use of those statutes. The convictions of Timothy McVeigh and the recent embassy bombers are examples. Immigration laws were also affected. Now the government is calling for even more dramatic changes and starting to treat terrorism like every other country in the world does, by applying different rules to terrorism than are applied to garden variety crime. Another outcome of the '93 investigations: a number of people were prosecuted for terrorist conspiracies that were thwarted before they came to fruition. No, the '93 bombing case was not wasted effort, but it's not easy to convince yourself of that when you're standing in the shadow of the rubble."

--Interviewed by Vicki Sanders