Debate on Trying Terrorists

Jim Benjamin, one of the co-authors of Human Rights First’s In Pursuit of Justice reports, participated in a debate on the best way to try terrorist suspects, in the New York Times’ Room for Debate.

He draws on his research to underline the excellent track record of federal courts:

I recently co-authored a study of the experience of federal courts in
adjudicating terrorism cases. The data we collected shows that federal-court
terrorism prosecutions have generally yielded just, reliable outcomes that have
not undermined our national security.

The list of convictions includes not only the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman in
1995, but also of Ramzi Yousef, Zacarias Moussaoui, Jose Padilla, John Walker
Lindh and Richard Reid, to name just a few. Not all cases have been perfect, but
the outcomes, by and large, have been accepted around the world and have
consigned the convicted terrorists to spend many decades or the rest of their
lives in the obscurity of federal prison.

On courts, as a proven system vs. new legal structures:

One of the great strengths of the federal courts as a venue for prosecuting
terrorists is that they have actually worked, as evidenced by the long list of
successful terrorism prosecutions over the past 20 years.

By contrast, proposals to create a new national security court raise
practical and legal questions and offer, for the foreseeable future, the
prospect of constitutional uncertainty and legal wrangling. The prior
administration tried and failed to create novel legal structures to handle
terrorism cases.

Read the whole debate, including the Glenn Sulmasy’s perspective.

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Published on November 16, 2009

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