Military May Try Terrorism Cases
Wednesday, November 14, 2001
President Bush declared an "extraordinary emergency" yesterday that empowers him to order military trials for suspected international terrorists and their collaborators, bypassing the American criminal justice system, its rules of evidence and its constitutional guarantees.
The presidential directive, signed by Bush as commander in chief, applies to non-U.S. citizens arrested in the United States or abroad. The president himself will decide which defendants will be tried by military tribunals. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. There will be no judicial review.
By setting up military tribunals, administration officials said, Bush hopes to ensure that terrorists captured in Afghanistan or around the world are brought swiftly and surely to justice. But the order drew immediate criticism from civil libertarians and could alienate European allies who oppose the U.S. death penalty and favor international courts.
Bush said the tribunals are needed because "mass deaths, mass injuries and massive destruction of property" from future terrorism could "place at risk the continuity of the operations of the United States government." It is "not practicable," he said, to require the tribunals to abide by the "principles of law and the rules of evidence" that govern U.S. criminal prosecutions.
Legal scholars said the measure is highly unusual, but not unprecedented.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a secret military trial for eight Nazi saboteurs who had landed in Florida and New York with explosives they intended to use against such targets as factories, bridges, railroads and department stores. The Supreme Court declared the trial constitutional, and six of the eight defendants were executed.