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Faith in our system of justice

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An email from the Center for American Progress:

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the five Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with planning the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be facing justice a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center buildings. In one of the "highest-profile and highest-security terrorism trials in history," Justice Department prosecutors will seek out the death penalty for the self-described mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the four others. What made Holder’s announcement so significant is that the venue will be a U.S. federal court, rather than the military commissions favored by the Bush administration. "I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years," said Holder. "The alleged 9/11 conspirators will stand trial in our justice system before an impartial jury under long-established rules and procedures." The New York Times called the Attorney General’s decision "bold and principled" and the Center for American Progress’ Ken Gude said it was "a victory for the rule of law and the American system of justice." Many conservatives, however, rushed out knee-jerk statements condemning the decision, claiming that it imperils American security and won’t deliver a proper verdict. But not only are they ignoring the long-standing precedent of prosecuting terrorists in U.S. courts, they’re insulting the U.S. legal system and essentially saying that America’s laws aren’t strong enough to administer justice.

MOVING AWAY FROM A DISGRACEFUL LEGACY: One of the Bush administration’s most sordid legacies was the illegitimate, unjust system of military commissions it created to try Guantanamo Bay detainees. These tribunals essentially stripped defendants’ legal rights, admitted evidence obtained through torture, and were declared unconstitutional by courts. Although Obama has kept a revised version of these commissions that are more in line with military standards, his administration’s decision to try the 9/11 defendants in federal court is one of its boldest steps toward "rectify[ing] the disgraceful Bush detention policies." The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder also notes that this decision is refreshing because, unlike under the Bush administration, the Attorney General appears to be acting in spite of political interests, rather than being guided by them. Holder knew that his announcement would attract significant criticism from people who don’t want the trials on U.S. soil, but he also recognized that the status quo wasn’t making America any safer. "It’s also not in our interest to denigrate our system of criminal justice — the very bedrock of this country," added Tom Andrews, director of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo. "If you are accused, you get to know what you know what you are accused of, you get to face your accusers, and you get to defend yourself in court, and then you face a trial and a conviction. This is who we are as a system. The Taliban? You can get a trial and a beheading in a few hours. That’s not our system of justice."

A STRONG PRECEDENT: Many conservatives couldn’t wait to issue statements blasting Holder’s announcement and show how little faith they have in the U.S. justice system. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that it "puts the interests of liberal special interest groups before the safety and security of the American people." Rep. Peter King (R-NY) claimed that the decision puts New York at a greater risk of a terrorist attack. Both Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) said that it was inappropriate to treat the 9/11 defendants as "common criminals." Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin took to Facebook to express her thoughts about the Obama administration’s "atrocious" decision. "Hang ’em high," wrote Palin about what she would like to see happen to Mohammed and the four other men. "It’s an unnecessary advantage to give to the terrorists," Rudy Giuliani said about the trials on CNN on Sunday. "I don’t know why you want to give terrorists advantages. And secondly, it’s an unnecessary risk to the city of New York, which already has any number of risks." All of these right-wing statements are disappointingly predictable, but Giuliani’s is the most hypocritical. After all, as mayor of New York City, Giuliani praised the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. In 1994, he said that the federal trial "demonstrates that New Yorkers won’t meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon — the law." "It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world," he added. He has even supported the prosecution of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. In 2001, Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, went to Giuliani and asked him if he approved of bringing the terrorist suspects into the city; Giuliani indicated that "he would be supportive of her." The U.S. government has "prosecuted 195 terrorists in civilian courts since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with a 91 percent conviction." Only "three terrorists have been tried before military tribunals."

CLOSING GUANTANAMO: Holder’s announcement was a "major milestone" toward Obama’s goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. In 2007, Gen. Colin Powell stressed that closing the facility is one of the most important steps the U.S. can take toward combating global extremism. "We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place," he told GQ. "What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We are paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember." The Obama administration has indicated that it will likely miss its Jan. 22 deadline to close the facility, but it continues to work on finding places to relocate the detainees. Although places like Thomson, IL welcome the possibility of incarcerating the detainees in their town — as well as the thousands of jobs that would come along with such a move — conservatives continue to fear-monger against any cooperation. Gude has outlined four steps the Obama administration should pursue to get the Guantanamo closure back on track, including pushing the deadline back to July 2010 and limiting military detention "only to enemy fighters captured in combat zones" and using "criminal law to prosecute detainees captured far from any battlefield."

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2009 at 10:55 am

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