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.

Take Action: Sign the petition to bring 9/11 attackers to justice in the American legal system.


Photo credit: US govt


Gene W.
Gene W6 years ago

@Abdulaziz, well the Israelis have never attacked the USA and it does appear that the Palestinians whether Hamas or Hezbollah are the ones driving the controversy. I would not blame the Israelis if they decide the next time they are attacked to go ahead and take some more elbow room from the attacker.

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

@ AbdulAziz A. I am no Muslim sympathizer but I agree with every word of your post.

Frank F.
Frank F.6 years ago

KSM TRIAL/TRIBUNAL: Is anyone surprised..?? closed session,torture confession admissible,no appeal,no defense counsel presence required,verdict is none appeal,DEATH PENALTY is a CERTAINTY.. Can anyone think of better way of control of unpredictable information concerning the 9-11 attacks than this proletarian' DOME OF SILENCE..?? and CONGRESS HAS NO $$$ FOR A CIVIL TRIAL..??Please stop with this nonsense after ten years


Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Guantanamo and military tribunals are cover-ups for loss of freedom.

Dominic C.
Dominic C6 years ago

Well if civilian trials do not exist there must be some other form of justice. We do not have any choice because the Republicans ruled the Congress. Otherwise the next term (which could be a Republican President), we are going to have a kangaroo court.

Dianna M.
Dianna M6 years ago

I've signed this petition and every other petition on this subject that I could find. I am appalled that the Bush administration would do something so outrageous as having people kidnapped from other countries, even if they are guilty. And to have these people tortured--despicable. In MY name? I don't think so! And he had lawyers telling him it was legal--how spineless. He's old enough to know better.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A6 years ago

Oh Fred Crohn, please don't say this:

We want a result of Muslims who are ready to be peers with the Israeli Jewish civilisation, not a bunch of warmongering animals in historic territories.

Isrealis are not civilised, they are butchers and dogs of war. They live in an apartheid country that discriminates against the indigenous population. Killing them, stealing their land, housing, fields, water and their dignity.

Certainly the most arrogant country in the world who disregards every UN resolution and still get rewarded by the USA tax payers money in Billions every year.

If the warmonger have made war bring them to the open court and try them fairly right in front of people and media.

O bamy Bama does not have the guts to do this as his Zionist lobby will have shot in no time.

David Gregory
David Gregory6 years ago

Military Courts are only used when there is fear that the truth would emerge in a real court and they could not let that happen, 911 false flag operation and the Empire goes merrily marching on ®

Sound Mind
Ronald E6 years ago

The only folks that would benefit from trying these butchers in a civil court would be the trial lawyers that are about as evil as these scum suckers. Stay in the military courts, hang the bastards, and save carloads of money in the process.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

I already signed this petition. Terrorist are not military persons and should not have a military trial. They are criminals, the worse of the worse, that mostly terrorize civilians and then hide behind their own civilians for protection.

They should be tried in our criminal courts where the rest of the criminals are tried.