Earlier this afternoon[11/1], President Trump spoke about last night’s terror attack in New York City. He said that he wanted the alleged attacker, a 29-year-old from Uzbekistan, to face “quick justice” and “strong justice.”
We couldn’t agree more.
However, following his remarks, a reporter asked the president if he wanted the “assailant from New York sent to Gitmo.” Trump responded, “I would certainly consider that, yes…send him to Gitmo.” He also said that the attacker should face justice “much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock.”
Now we’re confused.
If Trump’s aim is truly for quick and strong justice, then the detention facility and military commissions at Guantanamo Bay are the absolute last place this man should be held or face trial. Trump complained that these cases can “go through court for years” and then “who knows what happens.” This is precisely what we’ve been saying about the military commissions for as long as we can remember.
This week, the military commissions are holding hearings in the al-Nashiri proceedings (which is a whole different saga for a whole different blog). Nashiri is accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors. His pretrial hearings have been going on for over nine years. The defendants in the 9/11 case will have hearings in December. They were charged in 2008, and their trial hasn’t even started. It’s clear that if you’re looking for justice of any kind, Guantanamo is the last place you want to rely on.
Federal courts, on the other hand, have a phenomenal record of providing justice that Americans can be proud of. Since 9/11, federal civilian criminal courts have convicted more than 620 individuals on terrorism-related charges. A month ago, Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was convicted of nine counts related to a 2009 truck bombing of a U.S. Army base in Khost, Afghanistan. He was captured in 2014, extradited to the United States from Pakistan, tried, and convicted. The man accused of the Chelsea bombing last year was convicted last month and faces sentencing in January 2018. In 2014, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was found guilty on all counts just one year after his capture.
Some people believe that federal courts aren’t properly equipped to handle terrorism cases. We’ve seen that’s patently false. In fact, federal courts can try people on a far wider range of charges than military commissions, which can only try war crimes. Federal courts have long-standing rules and hundreds of years of precedents to rely on.
Jumping to calls of “Send him to Gitmo!” is an emotional response to a frightening event (setting aside the debate over if he could even legally be tried in front of the military commissions) that ultimately is unproductive. If our goal is truly to find justice, then any charges brought against this individual should be before federal courts, and not in what some attorneys have called the “kangaroo courts” of Guantanamo Bay.
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