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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid