Ditch tribunals entirely
Try all terror suspects in federal court, not military commissions.
By Anthony D. Romero
On Sept. 11, 2001, this nation underwent an immeasurable horror. Since then, Americans have been waiting for justice. Now, finally, after eight years of delay and controversy, we can begin taking a real step toward that goal.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision last week to prosecute five 9/11 defendants in federal court is the only option for delivering trustworthy and legitimate outcomes consistent with our values. Any other path would mean abandoning our commitment to the Constitution and bending our principles for the sake of expediency.
Americans should not fear the prospect of trying these defendants in federal court. Instead, they should be proud that in our system everyone charged with a crime, even those accused of the most heinous acts, is entitled to a fair trial in a system that we can trust.
Our tried and true justice system has proved through the generations — including in more than 150 successful terrorism prosecutions — that it is up to the task of achieving justice while upholding U.S. legal standards.
While Holder’s decision to prosecute the 9/11 defendants in federal court is a huge step forward, it is troubling that the administration plans to continue the use of military commissions for other detainees. The American Civil Liberties Union has been observing these proceedings since their inception, and we can unequivocally say that they have been an abject failure. The commission system was designed to cut corners and ensure quick convictions, and it has made a mockery of American justice.
As a result, they are on their third incarnation now, the previous versions having been ditched for their severe shortcomings and denial of due process. Even with recent improvements passed by Congress, the commissions remain a second-class system of justice that fails to meet domestic and international legal standards, and any of their outcomes will be subject to question.
Moreover, the administration’s decision to “split the baby” between different legal systems looks suspiciously like “forum shopping” — a calculated attempt to pick the system most likely to arrive at the desired, but not necessarily the fairest, result in any particular case.
It is time to get serious about upholding the law. If our government has evidence against detainees, it should do what it has always done before — go into a courtroom and prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. America is certainly up to that task.
Anthony D. Romero is executive director of the ACLU.