Military Commissions a Dangerous Choice for 9/11 Defendants

Washington, DC Human Rights First decries today’s reports that top advisers to President Barack Obama will recommend that he reverse Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the 9/11 defendants in civilian federal courts.

“This is a defining moment for the Obama Administration. If he caves to the politics of fear that have dominated this debate in recent months, he will set a dangerous precedent for future national security policy,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “The Obama Administration made the right call when it decided to bring the alleged 9/11 conspirators to justice in regular federal courts. Backing out of that decision now would demonstrate weakness and embolden America’s enemies. Bringing these cases in military commissions gives these defendants the warrior status they crave.”

Massimino continued, “The Attorney General decided to bring the 9/11 cases in our proven criminal justice system because it is best equipped to render swift justice and protect the American public. The President should support his decision and not put the most important criminal case in American history in an experimental commission system that has proven to be vulnerable to criticism, delay, confusion and justified legal challenges.”

Regular civilian courts have tried hundreds of terrorism cases since 9/11 and have secured convictions in over 195 cases involving connections to Islamist extremist groups. In contrast, in the eight years since President Bush first authorized the military commissions, these commissions have brought only two cases to trial and yielded only three convictions. Two of the men convicted in military commission have already been released from prison. Moreover, the administration has yet to issue rules to implement the new law Congress passed in November to govern military commissions.

In a July 2009 update of the report In Pursuit of Justice, Human Rights First studied 119 terrorism cases with 289 defendants and filed since 2001 in the normal federal court system. This examination of the ability of federal courts to meet the challenges of international terrorism prosecutions was researched and written by former federal prosecutors. It concluded that federal courts are capable of handling these complex cases and are by far the best forum for trying terrorists and securing convictions.


Published on March 5, 2010


Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.