Trying terrorism suspects in Federal courtrooms yields superior outcomes

A great article by the Center for American Progress on why we should definitely try terrorism suspects in the United States criminal justice system, rather than in military tribunals. The authors contend that not only are criminal trials more in line with the legal principles of the United States, but they are more effective for obtaining convictions and encouraging cooperation and intelligence gathering from suspects.

The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands in stark contrast with the shockingly poor military commissions system. Since 2001—the same period in which military commissions have convicted just three terrorists—criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges, or 65 times more than military commissions. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system.

A military commission has never handled a case remotely like Abdulmutallab’s—attempted murder and a specific act of terrorism. But a criminal court obtained a conviction in an identical case: Richard Reid’s failed bombing of a transatlantic airliner in December 2001. Reid was also sent on his suicide mission by an Al Qaeda affiliate using explosives concealed in his clothing, only the explosives were in his shoes and not his underwear. Reid even used pentaerythritol, the same explosive material as Abdulmutallab. He is currently serving a life sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

The article goes on to blow up some of the mythology surrounding suspects’ access to attorneys military v. criminal courts, namely that the

Military Commissions Act[s of 2006 and 2009] require providing defense counsel to detainees facing charges before a military commission. Military commissions also have procedures prohibiting self-incrimination and ensuring that statements from the defendant are made voluntarily. There is virtually no difference between military commissions and criminal courts in the provision and availability of defense counsel.

The whole thing is worth reading.


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