Terrorism trials in federal courts aid national security

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In his Oct. 6 op-ed, "The right place to try terrorists," former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey asked whether the main purpose of prosecuting suspected terrorists in federal courts "is to protect the citizens of this country or to showcase the country's criminal justice system, which has been done before and which failed to impress Khalid Sheik Mohammed, [Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri] or any of their associates."

Prosecutions are not about impressing the Khalid Sheik Mohammeds of the world. Showcasing our criminal justice system can, however, undermine the twisted propaganda of those terrorists and reduce their ability to attract recruits. Upholding the rule of law also makes it easier for other governments to cooperate in efforts to defeat this global threat.

Suzanne E. Spaulding, McLean

The writer was executive director of the National Commission on Terrorism from January to June 2000. Her law firm, Bingham McCutchen, represents Uighur detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


Michael B. Mukasey had his premise wrong when he contended that the decision to try Guantanamo detainees in federal courts comes down to a choice between protecting the American people and showcasing American justice.

First, his belief that a military commission would have given Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri a longer sentence than the eight years-plus that a federal judge gave him is suspect. Two of the three military commissions completed at Guantanamo resulted in effective sentences of nine months or less, and today David Hicks and Salim Ahmed Hamdan are free.

Second, his "serious security concerns for any person or place" near where detainees are to be held or tried are fear-mongering worthy of former vice president Dick Cheney. In many terrorism trials in recent years -- Omar Abdel-Rahman, Richard Reid and Ramzi Yousef, among others -- we managed to do justice in significant cases in the United States without compromising our security.

Finally, military commissions are not, as Mr. Mukasey implied, essential to keep detainees from returning to terrorism. The Geneva Conventions permit detaining the enemy during armed conflicts to prevent them from causing future harm. Criminal trials punish past misconduct. Suggesting that the choice is either criminal prosecution or freedom is false.

Morris Davis, Gainesville

The writer was chief prosecutor for the military commissions from 2005 to 2007.

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