The Green Papers
The Green Papers

Notes on the controversy surrounding trying
terrorist suspects in civilian criminal court

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Mon 16 Nov 2009

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law...

from the 6th Amendment to the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION (part of the so-called 'BILL OF RIGHTS')

The crime in question was, by far, the largest mass murder in American History and it took place on 11 September 2001 when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, purposely flown into by two fully-fueled jet airliners, collapsed as a result of structural failure induced by the severe damage sustained by these, the tallest buildings in New York City's Financial District: those who could not get out of the buildings- or out of their way as they fell- in time died; many others were killed, even before the Twin Towers themselves collapsed, by falling debris from the planes' having, respectively, crashed into each Tower...

so then: why shouldn't the trial of the accused masterminds behind this event now in United States custody be held in Federal court in that very "State and district"- to use the constitutional language- in which the crime itself had actually taken place?

You would think, however, that the very foundations of Anglo-American Law- not also to mention those of Western Civilization itself- were on the very verge of crumbling, unrecoverably, given the negative reaction- by some- to the decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this past Friday to try said defendants in the U.S, District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Many politicians- in the main, Republicans- already, rightly or wrongly, critical of President Barack Obama for a variety of other political reasons have, in response, now seen fit to jump onto a veritable bandwagon of "to Hell with American Constitutionalism" in their apparent overzealousness for imitating the spirit, if not at all the actual methods, of such as these very ones they also seek to hold accountable for events such as 9/11.

For it is Al Qa'eda and their imitators, as well as their supporters (such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan), who have played prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner- all in one- in their many and varied terrorist plots, whether actually carried out (besides 9/11-- back in 2001, we have since witnessed, among other like events, the Bali resort attacks [10/12-- in 2002 and again on 10/1-- in 2005], the Madrid train bombings [3/11-- in 2004], the London Transport attacks [7/7-- in 2005], and the siege of Mumbai [in late November of 2008, less than a year ago now]: please note well that none of these I've cited within this parenthetical took place on American soil, by the way) or, thankfully, thwarted whilst still aborning. Al Qa'eda actors and wannabes alike around the world have, much too often (for even once is once too often), effectively decided that thousands merely going to work in a major metropolis, or getting ready to enjoy a particular place as tourists, should die, or at least become maimed, because of the terrorists' imposition of "sentence" on ordinary people for the "crime" of merely going about their everyday business.

How appalling is it, then, that politicians within our own government- products of the benefits, as well as practicioners of the art, of lawful Republican Democracy- now call for the very essence of that same Republican Democracy to be largely abandoned principally to satisfy a thirst for vengeance rather than a search for Justice? Was not 9/11 itself- not to mention any of the other terrorists attacks I've mentioned above- the misguided attempt, by those within Al Qa'eda or others willing to copy their methodology, to satisfy their own warped sense of vengeance?

One argument being made by the critics is that trying these defendants in a civilian court will only give them a public platform- a veritable "soapbox", if you will- from which to spread Jihadist propaganda and spout anti-Western/anti-American invective (because, presumably, trial by a military tribunal would not be at all so public a forum for those so accused)...

so what?!

That argument might actually have made some sense but for the fact that critics of Attorney-General Holder's decision are certainly not generally calling for the lives of these defendants, should they be convicted, to be spared: for the execution of said defendants upon conviction will be seen, by those most susceptible to the kind of propaganda Holder's (and, by extension, President Obama's) critics most fear, as that very "martyrdom" these same defendants themselves have sought ever since their capture (a "martyrdom" which those already predisposed to see it as something glorious themselves may well seek to emulate)... put another way: it, therefore, matters not one whit where these terrorist suspects are tried-- that is, if you are going to seek- and then, after their conviction, enforce- the Death Penalty in any event!

The Constitution itself, meanwhile (and regardless of any and all controversy engendered by Holder's decision), is as clear as the pealing of the proverbial "bell" (as can be seen in the quotation from that document at the head of this very piece)! As I myself once noted in the very title of a Commentary I wrote for this website some years ago now- we answer to a higher authority... thus, in answer to those who have so often asked: "If terrorists refuse to follow 'the rules', why should we?", one must ever state firmly, where not also most strongly: "Precisely because we do follow 'the Rules'!"... or, at the very least, we should be following the very "Rules" we ourselves most expect others to follow in order to be considered, by our own standards, to be on the proper side of a line between Civilization and Barbarism.

Thus, the message that the United States of America should be sending, both here at home as well as abroad, is that we will fearlessly continue to prosecute crime and institute appropriate punishment through that Due Process which normally applies: a legal procedure- with all its checks and balances, with all its protections for those facing trial (no matter how despicable the criminal defendant), that an adversarial system such as that of Criminal Justice needs to provide for in order for Trial by Jury to be far more a search for truth and the Justice that such truth advances than a mere "witch hunt" carried out unfettered by- or, at least, on behalf of- those seeking mere revenge.

A fair question, however, is now this: are those most critical of Holder's decision merely seeking base political advantage in upcoming elections by so playing on the fears of the electorate as regards Homeland Security?-- or, worse still, have they simply lost all due faith in Our Constitution and the very legal system it so well harbors?

I, however, have not at all lost such faith- and I certainly refuse to fear (as I've said before on this website)...

therefore, let them be tried for those crimes it is alleged they have committed in the manner to which our own Free Society is more usually accustomed: allow the Constitution to work and, thereby, keep our polity operating thereunder as a government of Law and not of men!...

or have we, indeed, already so given up our own commitment to Liberty (in which case, terrorists do win)?

Modified .