Military Versus Civilian Trials for Terror Suspects
With the recent news that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other suspected terrorists will face trial in military tribunals rather than regular civilian courts, leading Guantanamo expert Karen Greenberg has been all over the media lately. I wanted to highlight her article a week ago in The Guardian, which homes in on the key point that federal prosecutors have built up a professional expertise on terrorism cases.
We tend to forget that regular courts have a successful record of prosecutions numbering in the hundreds, while military tribunals can count their terror trials on the fingers of one hand. Greenberg’s perspective is interesting, looking at the issue from the vantage of professional guilds. In other words, it’s a turf battle between Department of Justice attorneys and the military JAG corps. It’s not that the military lawyers are eager to learn this specialty; as we know, the issue is intensely politicized. Greenberg gives her take on the politicization of terror trials in her concluding paragraph:
How ironic that the development of a true professional expertise is met with a refusal to let the courts practice what they are charged with under the US Constitution. Could it be that expertise in these matters is just what Congress doesn’t want? Could it be that “fair trials” and “just verdicts,” not to mention transparent trials and public accountability for the families of 9/11, are not what matter most? Could it, instead, be that thwarting the department of justice and obstructing the clear preferences of Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration are the politicians’ top priorities, even in the “war on terror?”
But this isn’t just about obstructing and opposing President Obama — though we get plenty of that from the right wing on other issues (see health care, reform of). As I’ve been arguing for a long time, the far right actively fosters an image of terrorists as too dangerous (even in custody) for our regular justice system to handle, too dangerous even to move to American soil. It’s a pillar of the political argument against Democrats generally for the DeMint-Sessions-Ihofe wing to set out demagogic markers of what counts as taking the terrorist threat seriously.
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Photo credit: US govt