Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Terrorists in Civillain Courts: What Does History Say?

On Sunday, I posted a blog on why I thought President Obama and Attorney General Holder grossly misunderstand terrorism. We are told by the administration that our nation has a very successful history of trying terrorism in civilian courts. Seattle Dave even pointed in the comments for my post that three conservatives sided with the administration and said the following:

Over the last two decades, federal courts constituted under Article III of the U.S. Constitution have proven capable of trying a wide array of terrorism cases, without sacrificing either national security or fair trial standards.

I thought it might be helpful to look at three high profile cases to see if this is really the case.

Case One: The Blind Sheik

Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as "the Blind Sheik" was tried for terrorism in the 1990's. It was alleged that he was behind the original World Trade Center bombing in 1993. His trial was a very high profile event. He was not convicted of terrorism but was instead found guilty of "seditious conspiracy". This is an easier charge to prove in a court of law than terrorism. It was believed the Blind Sheik was involved in planning 15 bomb attacks through out New York.

The trial for the Blind Sheik is believed to have provided valuable intelligence for Al-Queda. Michael Mukasey, previous Attorney General, and a man who presided over the trial of the Blind Sheik, writing last month illustrated this with an example:

...the government was required to disclose, as it is routinely in conspiracy cases, the identity of all known co-conspirators, regardless of whether they are charged as defendants. One of those co-conspirators, relatively obscure in 1995, was Osama bin Laden. It was later learned that soon after the government's disclosure the list of unindicted co-conspirators had made its way to bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he then resided. He was able to learn not only that the government was aware of him, but also who else the government was aware of.

This is just one example of court evidence providing valuable intelligence to terrorists. The Blind Sheik's trial also had the distinction of getting the defense attorney in trouble. Lynne Stewart was a member of the Sheik's defense team, and was convicted of passing messages to the Sheik's followers in foreign countries inciting them to perform terrorist attacks.

Case Two: Zacarias Moussaoui

The alleged "20th Hijacker" also had a few intelligence problems. Moussaoui represented himself in court, made a mockery of the trial, and even verbally attacked the judge during the proceedings. Since Moussaoui represented himself, the prosecution had to turn over their case to the "defendants lawyer" under discovery. According to CNBC News, the government admitted they turned over classified documents to Moussaoui that he shouldn't have had access too. This is important because KSM has decided to represent himself in the upcoming New York trials.

Case Three: Ramzi Yousef

Like the Sheik,Ramzi Yousef was also found guilty of "seditious activities" in spite of being a known terrorists and in spite of being involved in terrorists activities. Once again, material presented in court helped our enemies overseas. From Michael Mukasey:

Again, during the trial of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, an apparently innocuous bit of testimony in a public courtroom about delivery of a cell phone battery was enough to tip off terrorists still at large that one of their communication links had been compromised. That link, which in fact had been monitored by the government and had provided enormously valuable intelligence, was immediately shut down, and further information lost.

We have been told by President Obama, Attorney General Holder, some conservatives, and other officials that our court system can handle trying terrorist. We have been told they can do it successfully, and without putting our security at risk. In these three specific cases, that didn't happen. In these high profile cases the government was unable to prevent sensitive information from getting in the hands of our enemies. In these cases the government failed to prosecute terrorists in civilian courts, "...without sacrificing either national security or fair trial standards."

Can we really expect the government to do better when trying the plotters of the 9/11 attacks?


Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read this blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

the anonymous guy said...

We should sentence people to death without a trial.

To quote a recent post I read somewhere: "Who cares if it's not in the constitution?"

Andy D said...

Thanks for the compliment, Anonymous. I hope you come back frequently.

Anonymous guy, no where have I argued these terrorists shouldn't be tried. I don't think civillian court is the appropriate or best place to try them. Military tribunals are legal. AG Holder is going to try the USS Cole bombers in a military tribunal, these 5 should be tried in one as well.

Seattle Dave said...

The USS Cole Bombers attacked a military target in a foreign country.

The 9/11 attackers committed a capital crime on US soil.

At the very least, find an apples to apples comparison.

To quote a recent show I saw on television, from a conservative host, "I don't care about the constitution."

The best question though, that no one has seemingly asked, is that if trying the 9/11 guys in a military tribunal was legal, why have we held them for over 6 years? Do we really need to hold these guys for this long to torture them?

Come on Andy, you're smarter than this. Quit posting Fox's talking points and start looking at the bigger picture and thinking some of this through on your own.

Andy D said...

So Dave, you would tell terrorists around the world, "If you attack a military target, we will take you to Gitmo and try you in a military tribunal. If you attack a civilian target, we will bring you to New York, give you Constitutional rights, and try you in a civilian court." What do you really think the result of that would be? We are telling terrorist that we won't be as hard on them if they stick to attacking civilian courts?

Kevin said...

USS Cole i.e. UNITED STATES ship is American soil.

Plus how American is it really when the trial outcome is known and if it not convicted ( set free) they will not be set free.

Also do you believe that the 9/11 attack was just on the people on the planes and in the buildings or on the country as a whole?

As for the six years look at how long common criminals in this country are sitting in jail waiting for a trial. The justice system is not swift. Also if six years is so long and bad and wrong why has the AG/president waited 9 whole months to make this decision? How much torturing had to go on in those nine months? During the last six years the us government has violated these peoples sixth amendment rights if they are indeed people acting in a non military manner on just the citizens of the US. If you are so damn concerned about showing the world how "fair and just" our judicial system is don't just stop at saying a public trial is good. Demand their freedom based on their lack of proper arrest, busting into his house without a warrent, no maranda rights given and the speedy trial mentioned above. You don't get to pick and choose which laws you are going to follow to make the president look better. I seem to remember some issues people had with mr. Bush doing similar things.

Chaim said...


Andy D said...

To my readers: The comment and link above is safe. I checked it out. Honestly, I am a little flattered. It is a post dedicated to me that is an argument from the opposite side of this discussion.