Argument: Trying terrorists in civilian courts restores US rule of law

Issue Report: Trying 9/11 terror suspects in NYC courts


“A Return to American Justice.” New York Times Editorial. November 13, 2009: “Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took a bold and principled step on Friday toward repairing the damage wrought by former President George W. Bush with his decision to discard the nation’s well-established systems of civilian and military justice in the treatment of detainees captured in antiterrorist operations.

From that entirely unnecessary policy (the United States had the tools to detain, charge and bring terrorists to justice) flowed a terrible legacy of torture and open-ended incarceration. It left President Obama with yet another mess to clean up on an urgent basis.

On Friday, Attorney General Holder announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four others accused in the plot will be tried in a fashion that will not further erode American justice or shame Americans. It promises to finally provide justice for the victims of 9/11.”

Joe Slakes. “We Shouldn’t Fear Terror Trials In NYC.” Fox News. November 20th, 2009: “Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made the argument for the terror trial to be held in New York when he said of the verdict in the World Trade Center bombing trial, “the verdict demonstrates that New Yorkers won’t meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon — the law.”

And: “it should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world, that it works well, that that is the place to seek vindication if you feel your rights have been violated,” said Giuliani.

Here is the former federal prosecutor and Mayor of New York acknowledging that the rule of law is what makes America a very special country. It is integral to that rule of law that it be applied as fairly and uniformly as we are able.”

“Commentary: U.S. legal system is capable of trying 9-11 suspects.” The Miami Herald. Nov. 16, 2009: “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.”

“A trial that should restore faith in US justice.” The Observer, Editorial. November 15, 2009: “SO MUCH changed after 11 September 2001. The terrorist attacks on the US had such profound global consequences that they have lodged in the world’s collective imagination as a pivotal moment in history. That makes it hard sometimes to see them, in the plainest of terms, as a crime.

But the need to see 9/11 in precisely those terms is implied by last week’s decision by US authorities to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the attacks, and four alleged accomplices, in a civil court in New York. It is a decision for which President Barack Obama deserves great credit.

The men have been held in Camp Delta, the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. Its closure was an important election pledge for Mr Obama, Enhanced Coverage Li
signalling an intent to reassert the primacy of constitutional law in the conduct of America’s anti-terror policies. Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s arrival on US soil, and entry into a court room under US legal jurisdiction, will be a moment of great symbolic importance in that process.”

Leonard Pitts. “We can still aford to act like America.” Miami Herald. November 21, 2009: “It’s worth remembering that even the architects of the greatest barbarism in history had their day in court. After burning away 11 million lives, the leaders of the Nazi regime found themselves facing not summary execution, but a trial before a military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.

As prosecutor Robert Jackson put it: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.

And when the trials were over and the verdicts delivered — death or imprisonment for most, three were acquitted — the New York Times editorialized as follows: “These sentences can neither atone for all the evil these men have brought into the world nor undo any part of it. But they help to assuage the conscience of mankind and to restore to honor the concept of the dignity of man which cannot be violated with impunity.

Compare that with the Bush administration’s original, Supreme Court-rebuked vision of justice — minimal rights for the accused, torture allowed, the government’s thumb on justice’s scale — and maybe you’ll agree: We need this trial more than Mohammed does. For all its risks — and they are real — it offers a prize worth risking for: the promise of feeling like Americans again.

That feeling is arguably the most significant casualty of Sept. 11. On that day, we elevated a mob of stateless criminals, a mafia in cleric’s clothing, to the exalted level of rogue nation. But they were never that, never a threat to our national existence, lacked the forces to take even one square inch of American soil. What they could threaten — and take — was our sense of ourselves as a brave, reasonable and civilized people, inhabiting a nation of laws. They beckoned us into the mud with them, and we leapt.”

Margaret Carlson. “Big Apple Justice Fits Man Accused of 9/11.” Bloomberg. Nov 19, 2009: “Americans believe our legal system is the crown jewel of our democracy, at least until we come across a really despicable savage like Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Then we seek Wild West justice, the rougher the better. Hang the monster from the highest tree.”