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The Case for Trying Terrorists in Federal Criminal Courts

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February 19, 2010

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Today the ACLU, along with a broad coalition of human rights and civil liberties groups, sent a letter to the Senate urging senators to defeat a bill that would force the Obama administration to try terrorism suspects in the unconstitutional military commissions. The bill was introduced earlier this month by Sen Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and is almost identical to an amendment the senator offered last year (which was defeated soundly). The bill, S. 2977, would prohibit the use of Justice Department funds to prosecute the alleged 9/11 plotters in federal criminal court. The intent of the bill, in the end, is to force the administration’s hand. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has introduced a similar companion bill in the House.

Why this resurgence of mistrust in our federal court system?

You’ll remember that last November, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that these trials would be held in federal court in Manhattan. It was the right thing to do. But the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing. Holder has been under intense pressure from some members of Congress and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reverse his decision. These members of Congress are now pressuring the White House itself to transfer the cases to the unconstitutional military commissions system.

I think you know how we feel about those military commissions (second-class system of justice, created to guarantee convictions not justice — all that).

Sen. Graham’s bill is dangerous because it will not only derail the administration’s current plans and tie the president’s hands, it will likely serve to delay justice even further. Not only that, it challenges the idea that our criminal justice system can handle terrorism cases. The facts, however, are against Sen. Graham. The military commissions have successfully prosecuted three (THREE) terrorists since 2001. Our federal criminal courts have convicted 300 (THREE HUNDRED!) in the same time frame. Oh, and those three military commissions-convicted terrorists? Two have already served their time and are currently free. If I was a betting woman (and I am), I’d put my money on our federal courts to get the job done. Why is Sen. Graham betting against us?

We and our coalition partners believe in the U.S. justice system and we believe that that is exactly where those accused of crimes belong. Call your senators and ask them to oppose Sen. Graham’s bill.

For more information, we’ve just launched this handy landing page on the use of federal criminal courts for terrorism prosecutions. Enjoy!

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