Fawwaz Convicted of Terrorism in U.S. Federal Courts
New York City—Human Rights First said that today’s conviction of al Qaeda member Khaled al-Fawwaz once again demonstrates that justice in terrorism cases is best served in federal court. After deliberating two and a half days, the anonymous New York jury considering the terrorism case against Fawwaz voted to convict the alleged al Qaeda member on all four charges. Prosecutors said Fawwaz played a key role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people and injured thousands more. Fawwaz faces the potential of life imprisonment at his sentencing on May 21.
“The smooth and efficient handling of the Fawwaz case demonstrates once again that federal courts are the best places to try complex international terrorism cases,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who followed the case closely and regularly observes both federal court terrorism trials and military commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay. “While some fear-mongerers continue to claim we cannot risk bringing terrorists to the United States for justice, this case, like the many before it, demonstrates that the U.S. justice system is actually the safest, most stable, and fair place we have to try them.”
Arrested in London in 1998, Fawwaz was only brought to the United States in 2012 after losing his battle against extradition from the U.K. His trial began on January 22 and was completed last week. As a security precaution, the jury was anonymous and the court provided extra security outside the courtroom. There were no incidents or known threats of violence, however, and on most days there weren’t even many spectators other than victims and family members of victims of the two bombings, many of whom traveled to New York from Africa to watch the trial. Today’s conviction is the 10th straight conviction of alleged co-conspirators in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Federal courts have convicted hundreds of terrorists on U.S. soil since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. By contrast, military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have convicted only eight individuals, and half of those cases have already been overturned on appeal. Jurisdictional challenges to military commission cases are ongoing and could lead to more reversals.
“What’s striking about this case, and all of the federal court terrorism cases, is how well the government is able to amass evidence and present it fairly and efficiently before a credible, independent judge and jury,” said Eviatar. “In the military commissions, meanwhile, the outcomes will always be in doubt because the judge, the jurors, and even some of the defense lawyers are all appointed by the U.S. military, which is also the prosecutor.”
The commission cases have also faced substantial delays due to the lack of controlling precedent or clear procedures governing the Guantanamo military commissions, and the fact that all lawyers, witnesses, observers, and media must be flown by the U.S. government from the United States to the U.S. Naval base in Cuba for each hearing.
For more information about prosecuting terrorism cases, please see Human Rights First’s fact sheets Federal Courts Continue to Take Lead in Counterterrorism Prosecutions and Myth v. Fact: Trying Terrorism Suspects in Federal Court.