US Federal Courts Built to Handle Terrorism Cases, says Law Professor
US Federal Courts Built to Handle Terrorism Cases, says Law Professor

The former chief prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone says 2009 did not fare so well in terms of rule of law.  David Crane says he’d give it a grade of C-minus.
Crane, a professor at Syracuse University’s College of Law, says, “We started off…2009 with the incursion of Israel into Palestine and all of the alleged war crimes that were committed by both sides during that particular conflict.  And then of course at the end of 2009, we see individuals rioting in the streets of Iran and being shot dead.”
Some successes
“The ad hoc tribunals, the Special Court, the International Criminal Court,” he says, are “continuing to do their important work and seeing justice is done for the victims for Rwanda, (the former) Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and then of course the Cambodian court.”
Crane says without these successes he would have given 2009 a failing grade.
“The actual tribunals themselves, modern international criminal law, is moving forward, slowly but steadily forward and prosecuting those who commit grave crimes,” he says.
Wrapping of business
The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which heard war crimes cases stemming from the country’s civil war, completed most of its business in 2009.  One exception is the ongoing trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who’s on trial for allegedly fueling that conflict.  That trial is taking place in a courtroom at The Hague.
The former prosecutor says agrees with a description once given the special court as “the little engine that could.” It’s a reference to a children’s story of a small locomotive that, despite the odds, pulled a great load up a long hill.  He says he’s proud of its accomplishments.
“It had a proper mandate and it had a realistic place for it to be and that was in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  And in a period of eight years, from beginning, middle and end, they largely completed their mandate of seeking justice for those individuals who were destroyed in West Africa and particularly in Sierra Leone,” says Crane.
Seeking al-Bashir’s arrest
This year the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.  The charges stem from the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan, which has been labeled genocide by the United States and others.
“I think it was proper.  I think it was important.  It was a decision made very carefully by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the ICC,” Crane says.
He likens the case to his signing the indictment against Taylor.
“You have to deal with these individuals as they commit the crimes.  He felt it was the right time.  Of course diplomats and politicians tend to think that it’s never the right time,” he says.
He believes al-Bashir will eventually be brought to a “fair and just trial.”  He says, “It’s just a matter of time.”
Moreno-Ocampo announced this year he wants to launch a formal investigation into Kenya’s post-election violence, which claimed well over one thousand lives.
Crane says, “I think it’s important that anytime where there are allegations of grave crimes, which is within the mandate of the International Criminal Court, that they do open up an…investigation to make sure that those who commit these crimes just don’t walk away.”
He says he would prefer for Kenya itself to prosecute any alleged crimes related to the violence but says that appears unlikely at this time.
“There are trends in modern international criminal law that concern me.  And that is we tend to look the other way on certain countries and not the others.  And that can give an impression that there is justice that is not being evenly applied,” he says.
Once that happens, he says, “It’s a real threat to modern international criminal law,” adding, “We shouldn’t just walk away from allegations of countries that should be investigated.”
Crane also says he’s concerned about the welfare of soldiers and civilians in conflict zones, about what he calls the “whittling away” of protections provided by the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements.
“We saw that start the 2009 period with the incursion by Israel into Palestine.  And I’m concerned about how modern Western countries are blinking and looking the other way in some ways related to the laws of armed conflict,” he says.
“I hope to see that all of the tribunals and special courts,” he says, “continue to do their job, continue to be supported by the international community…and finish their work.”
He believes the New Year will bring the conviction and sentencing of Charles Taylor.