News / USA

US Terror Trials Face Major Challenges

A photo of alleged Sep 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed soon after he was arrested (file photo)
A photo of alleged Sep 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed soon after he was arrested (file photo)

Multimedia

2011 will mark 10 years since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. While the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is in U.S. custody, it is not clear when and where he will be tried. One of the reasons is continued controversy over which court system, civilian or military, should be used to bring terrorism suspects to justice.  Some of the terrorism trials held so far have not settled the issue.

In January, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his earlier support for a decision by the Obama Administration to try alleged 9/11 conspirators in the city's federal civilian court. Bloomberg said such trials would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in added security costs.

"There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive to New York City. For example, military bases away from central cities where it's easier to provide security at much less cost."

Republican members of Congress have been particularly critical of civilian terror trials, accusing the Obama administration of treating accused terrorists lightly by not seeking justice in military courts. Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions: "Civilian trials for terrorist combatants are not required by law, policy, history, treaty or plain justice. Yet this policy it appears still remains in effect or at least unsettled."

Attorney General Eric Holder has indicated the issue is indeed unsettled. "No final decision has been made about the forum in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and his co-defendants will be tried. As I said from the outset this is a very close call. It should be clear to everyone by now there are many legal, national security and practical factors that have to be considered here."

There have been no security breaches at any of the civilian terror trials that have taken place so far. The civilian approach to such cases appeared vindicated when a jury of New Yorkers found Pakistani neuroscientist Asfia Saddiqui guilty in September of shooting at FBI agents and soldiers after her arrest in Afghanistan. She was given an 86-year prison sentence. Two months later, though, jurors in the same court house acquitted accused terrorist Ahmed Ghailani of all but one of 285 counts against him in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and his native Tanzania.  

Columbia University Associate Law Professor Matthew Waxman said military tribunal convictions can be overturned on appeal, just like those in a civilian court. And he said sentencing in such tribunals is not necessarily stricter.

"We've certainly seen many civilian trials go to judgment in terrorism cases and impose very stiff sentences on terrorism suspects. And we've seen military commissions that have resulted in relatively short sentences," said Waxman.

As an example, Waxman points to the radical difference between the nine-month suspended sentence handed to Australian David Hicks by a U.S. military tribunal, and the 20-year sentence given to the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, by a civilian court. Both were arrested in Afghanistan, where they had joined the Taliban. A military tribunal also gave a five-and one-half-year sentence to Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a body guard and driver of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden - while Ahmed Ghailani faces a minimum 20-year sentence in a civilian court.

Meanwhile, there is no decision on when and where to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's also possible, in fact, that he will be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lower-level suspects, at the same time, may continue to face justice in civilian courts.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid