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Column: Terrorists in Civilian or Military Court? Some Are Missing the Point

Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — There’s been a lot of screaming and finger pointing lately here in Washington about charging the underwear bomber and the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court rather than a military one.

The complaints go something like this: We’re being too soft on terrorism. We’re giving up too much. We’re losing valuable intelligence. These people don’t deserve the same rights as Americans.  They should be charged in military courts. Period!

You can’t be totally dismissive of these opinions. But people are missing the point.

This isn’t about bending over backwards to be fair to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It’s not about the underwear man. Frankly, it’s  hard to care about either one.

But it is about us as a nation that prides itself on following laws, of due process, of trying to be transparent for the world to see that justice can be achieved in a fair way. A civilian court seems to be the best way to show the world transparency and the American justice system.

We did it with the shoe bomber Richard Reid , we did it with the supposed 20th 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui during the Bush years. It worked.

Even in Iraq, a public trial was held for mass murderer Sadaam Hussein. The Americans or the Iraqis certainly could have justified putting a bullet in his head right as he popped his head out of the crawl space. Few would have complained or cared.

But a public  trial was held and a just ending resulted. There was something gratifying to see justice work. Don’t we deserve at least the same kind of justice we’ve paid so dearly for to try and have in Iraq?

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Comment from north34949
Time February 1, 2010 at 9:06 am

Allan.
Your opinion reflects that by many in the media. You seem to have little knowledge of fact that the USA throughout its history has employed two legal systems. Reading your column would leave one to believe that the military tribunal system for handling foreign combatants is somewhat like a kangaroo court which could not be farther from the truth.

Military courts and tribunal systems are well grounded in the constitution, in legal precedence , and in law. They have the same legitimacy as the article three civilian system. The USA will not win the hearts and mind of Islamic fundamentalists by holding trials in US District Court. If anything, it will make us appear weak which in the case in question, we are. Wringing ones hands at what the Europeans think given their history and systems is a poorly conceived measure of our legal system. Even the British just recently adopted the idea of a Supreme Court to tie together their fractured courts.

All combantants should be handled in the same legal system and that has been designated by Congress to be the military tribunals. I am proud of that decision and ashamed of our weak Attorney General who like many current political appointees, cannot stand up to the President for what is right.

Comment from proudfoot
Time February 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Allan, thank you for your opinion. The ideas that you have expressed in your column are key to understanding the difficulty that we, the U.S.A., find ourselves.
The military courts might have been a good option but for the taint of torture, extraordinary renditions, plausible charges of murder of inmates and allowing these prisoners to languish for how many years now? Justice delayed is justice denied.

It is time to wipe the slate clean and give these people their day in court.

We need not fear the rule of Law. Those who have stood outside of U.S. settled law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, international treaties regarding torture or common morality do need to fear the rule of law; whether they are prisoners or jailers.

This misguided and misnamed “War on Terror” will not be won using the tactics of the terrorist.

When we refuse to be bullied by terrorist threats, or imagined terrorist threats to our legal process or by the political machinations that have threaded themselves so deeply in this issue, we may once again enjoy the confidence of bewildered world.

Comment from mikepapas
Time February 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Thanks Al, Very Good Points. We need to be an example to the world about justice for all.

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