On the same day that President Obama announced the launch of his 2012 reelection campaign, he abandoned one of his major promises from 2008.
Today, the Obama administration announced that it will prosecute the suspects accused of planning the 9/11 attacks in the Guantánamo military commissions system. This is a reversal from Attorney General Eric Holder’s November 2009 announcement that the 9/11 defendants would be prosecuted in federal courts.
The decision to try the cases in a broken and deficient system is nothing short of devastating for the rule of law.
The ACLU has long called for the government to put an end to the illegitimate military commissions by prosecuting terrorism suspects in the federal criminal courts. After all, the 9/11 cases are the most important terrorism cases in recent history, and they should be tried in a system that has a proven record of successfully completing terrorism cases while protecting sensitive national security information and upholding the rule of law. And the attorney general agrees with us. In his statement today, Holder said:
The fact is, federal courts have proven to be an unparalleled instrument for bringing terrorists to justice. Our courts have convicted hundreds of terrorists since September 11, and our prisons safely and securely hold hundreds today, many of them serving long sentences. There is no other tool that has demonstrated the ability to both incapacitate terrorists and collect intelligence from them over such a diverse range of circumstances as our traditional justice system. Our national security demands that we continue to prosecute terrorists in federal court, and we will do so. Our heritage, our values, and our legacy to future generations also demand that we have full faith and confidence in a court system that has distinguished this nation throughout its history.
The numbers speak for themselves. While hundreds of successfully completed terrorism trials have taken place in the federal courts, the military commissions have resulted in only five convictions, including one in the trial of a former child soldier that relied on evidence obtained through torture.
Furthermore, cases prosecuted in the commissions are sure to be subject to continuous legal challenges and delays, and their outcomes will not be seen as legitimate. The military commissions system is condemned throughout the world because it is rife with constitutional and procedural problems, and trying the 9/11 cases in this broken system undermines fundamental American values that have made us a model throughout the world for centuries.