News

    US Terror Trial Decision Sparks Opposition, Legal Questions

    Multimedia

    Audio

    The Obama administration's decision to try five alleged plotters of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States in the civilian court system has sparked angry opposition from congressional Republicans, and many questions from legal analysts.

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it was his toughest decision to date - to try alleged September 11th terror mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in federal court, rather than through a military commission. 

    "Nothing can bring back those loved ones," he said.  "But they deserve the opportunity to see the alleged plotters of those attacks held accountable in open court, an opportunity that has too long been delayed."

    Among the early critics was Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge who has presided at a major terrorism trial and who served as attorney general at end of the Bush administration.

    "A decision that I consider to be not only be unwise, but in fact based on a refusal to face the fact that what we are involved with here is a war with people who follow a religiously-based ideology that calls on them to kill us, and to return instead to the mindset that prevailed before September 11, 2001," he said.

    Mukasey and other critics, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, argue that the decision to try the 9/11 suspects in civilian court is the latest in a series of steps by the Obama administration that calls into question its commitment to fight the war on terror.

    Attorney General Holder recently defended his decision in a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    "I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is," he added.  "I'm not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial, and no one else needs to be afraid either."

    That did not satisfy Senate Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  He says so-called enemy combatants, foreign fighters captured on overseas battlefields, should not be granted the protections of the U.S. civilian legal system.

    "Under domestic criminal law, the moment the person is in the hands of the United States government, they are entitled to be told they have a right to a lawyer and can remain silent," he explained.  "And if we go down that road, we are going to make this country less safe.  That is my problem with what you have done."

    Republicans cite recent public opinion polls that generally show Americans would prefer to try the alleged terrorists in military commissions, where the rules of evidence favor the prosecution.

    But many Democrats have rallied to Holder's defense, arguing that a federal court trial for the alleged 9/11 plotters will show the world that the United States has faith in its civilian legal institutions and the rule of law.

    This is Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin speaking to Eric Holder during last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

    "[Attorney] General, I want to commend you for your decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 plotters in federal court," he said.  "It is about time that we bring these criminals to justice, and your decision shows the world that this country stands firmly behind its legal system and the Constitution."

    Some analysts have expressed concern that holding the trial in New York City, the site of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, will once again make the city a prime terrorist target.

    Legal experts also predict that defense counsel for Mohammed and the other defendants will raise the issue of their treatment in captivity at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Mohammed, for example, was subject to a simulated drowning technique known as water boarding 183 times.

    Charles Stimson served as Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Detainee Affairs during the Bush administration.

    He notes that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has already boasted about his role as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks during military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

    Stimson says he worries that a civilian trial could become a circus if Mohammed tries to turn it into a propaganda event for al-Qaida.

    "I have no doubt, as a former federal prosecutor, that he can and will get a fair trial in federal court," he said.  "I don't think anyone disputes that.  Hasn't he been offering and begging to plead guilty in his military commissions trial for a long time?  Wouldn't that be sure and swift justice since the plea of guilty is the strongest form of proof known to the law?"

    Some legal experts continue to raise questions about the validity of the military commissions, even though the Obama administration and Congress have taken steps to give defendants more rights in that process.

    There is little doubt that a civilian trial will be a lengthy process.  One former federal prosecutor involved in past terrorism cases predicts that it is likely that the 9/11 terror trial will not even begin for another two years.


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora