Human Rights First Welcomes Decision to Try 9/11 Defendants in Federal Courts

(Washington, DC November 13, 2009) Human Rights First hails the Obama Administration’s decision to move the trials of the 5 Guantanamo detainees accused in the 9/11 conspiracy from the discredited Guantanamo military commissions and into federal courts to face justice. The organization notes that in light of the impressive track record federal courts have amassed in trying complex terrorism cases, these transfers are an important step toward long-delayed justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

“The victims of 9/11 and the American public deserve to see justice done, and the best way to achieved that is by prosecuting these men in a credible criminal justice system where the focus will be on their culpability, not on the legitimacy or fairness of the proceedings,” said Human Rights First President and Chief Executive Officer Elisa Massimino. “Moving these cases out of military commissions and into the federal courts is smart counter-terrorism strategy. It treats the perpetrators as the criminals they are and deprives them of the warrior status they crave. This is an important distinction and will help thwart their ability to recruit others to their cause.”

In a recent study detailed below of 119 terrorism cases with 289 defendants and filed since 2001 in the normal federal court system, Human Rights First found that of the 214 defendants whose cases were resolved as of June 2, 2009, 195 were convicted either by verdict or by a guilty plea. By contrast, the military commissions are a failed system that has secured only 3 convictions and their continued use threatens to perpetuate the legacy of failed trial and detention policies at Guantanamo.

Military commissions remain vulnerable to criticism, delay, confusion and justified legal challenges. The new reforms to the system include some improvements over the previous law, but still fail to provide many of the fundamental elements of a fair trial. For example, they continue to permit the admission of coerced testimony obtained at the point of capture; they use an overbroad definition of who can be tried before military commissions that includes juveniles and those not even engaged in hostilities; and they permit defendants to be tried ex-post facto for conduct not considered to constitute a war crime at the time it was committed.

In 2008, Human Rights First released In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Court. This meticulous examination of the ability of federal courts to meet the challenges of international terrorism prosecutions was researched and written by former federal prosecutors. It challenges the notion that new, un-tested legal regimes for terrorism suspects, such as military commissions, “national security courts,” or administrative detention without trial, are needed. The report is the most thorough examination to date of federal terrorism cases against those who are “associated


Published on November 13, 2009


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