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Debate: Trying 9/11 terror suspects in NYC courts

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Should 9/11 suspects be tried in NY courts, as ordered by US AG Eric Holder?

Background and context

In November of 2009, US Attorney General Eric Holder ordered the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in a federal criminal court in Manhattan, New York. These civilian courts are an alternative choice to trying terror suspects in military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The decision sparked substantial debate in the United States and around the world. The main questions framing the debate include: Can the conviction of the 9/11 terrorists be ensured in civilian courts, where there exists a risk of acquittal? Do civilian courts better uphold the rule of law, or are military tribunals consistent with US Constitutional law, rights, and values? How do civilian courts compare to military tribunals in terms of efficacy and the rule of law? Have civilian courts been more or less succesful than military tribunals in trying and convicting terror suspects? Have they been faster? Is trying terrorists in NYC courts fair to the victims of the attack and the city's inhabitants? Is trying terror suspects in NYC safe? Will it incite attacks at or near the trial? Will it turn into a circus of protesters and radicals vying for attention? Will protests and counter-protests surround the trial? Will the trial jeaparize intelligence sources? Will the terror suspects use the trial as a platform to spread their ideologies? Will the trials be a propaganda win or loss in general for the US and West versus terrorists and their radical ideologies? Overall, was the decision to try the 9/11 terror suspects in NYC a good one?

Contents

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Conviction: Can civilian trials ensure conviction of the 9/11 terrorists?

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Law: Is trying terrorists in courts consistent with the law?

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  • Terror suspects are due fair trials in civilian courts Rudy Giuliani told reporters about the 2006 civilian trial of "20th hijacker": "I was in awe of our system. It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law. ... I think he's going to be a symbol of American justice."[2]
  • Nothing mild about civilian court punishments for terrorists US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a November 2009 Congressional hearing defending his decision to try 9/11 terrorists in NYC: "There is nothing common about the treatment the alleged 9/11 conspirators will receive. In fact, I expect to direct prosecutors to seek the ultimate and most uncommon penalty for these heinous crimes."[3]


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Con

  • Terrorists should not be treated as common criminals. Terrorists are a certain kind of villan. They attempt to kill massive numbers of civilians in a war against civilization and society. They are not like common criminals, so should not be treated as such, with rights in a civilian trial.
  • Trying terrorists in NYC grants them their wish Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC's This Week: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when he was first arrested, asked to be brought to New York. I didn't think we were in the business of granting the requests of terrorists." [5]
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Vs. tribunals: Are courts better than tribunals for trying terrorists?

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  • Tribunals for terrorists is consistent with US Constitution John C. Eastman. "Military tribunals are perfectly constitutional." Ashbrook Center. November 2001: "The Fifth Amendment requires indictment by a grand jury, but specifically excepted from that requirement are "cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger." In other words, the men and women serving in our own military forces are not entitled to the benefits of trial in civilian courts, nor are civilians serving in the militia when they have been called into service. It would be odd indeed to read the Fifth Amendment as affording greater access to civilian courts to non-uniformed soldiers of terrorism waging war on the United States than it provides to our own soldiers and civilians."
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Victims: Is allowing victims to see trials important?

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Safety: Is trying terrorists in New York safe?

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Intelligence: Can a civilian court adequately protect intelligence?

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  • Trying terrorists risks releasing intelligence, costing lives Charles Krauthammer. "Travesty in New York." Real Clear Politics. November 20, 2009: "Civilian courts with broad rights of cross-examination and discovery give terrorists access to crucial information about intelligence sources and methods. [...] That's precisely what happened during the civilian New York trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecution was forced to turn over to the defense a list of two hundred unindicted co-conspirators, including the name Osama bin Laden. 'Within ten days, a copy of that list reached bin Laden in Khartoum,' wrote former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the presiding judge at that trial, 'letting him know that his connection to that case had been discovered.'"
"Trying Sept. 11 mastermind in civilian court is dangerous." The Detroit News Editorial. November 19, 2009: "Andrew McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who tried the "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, [...] told the Wall Street Journal that he supported the idea of trying Rahman in a civilian court at first, but discovered the problem of a criminal defendant's access to all kinds of government information. McCarthy has observed that intelligence information went from the World Trade Center defendants to Osama Bin Laden within days."


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Grand-standing: Can trials avoid grand-standing by terrorists?

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  • Courtroom rants of terrorists only expose them as hateful fools Attorney General Eric Holder said in Congressional hearings in November of 2009 on his decision to try 9/11 terrorists in New York civilian courts: "I’m not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial, and no one else needs to be afraid either.[...] I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is."[9]


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Con

  • Trying terrorists in NYC offers stage for grand-standing Charles Krauthammer. "Travesty in New York." Real Clear Politics. November 20th, 2009: "For late-19th-century anarchists, terrorism was the "propaganda of the deed." And the most successful propaganda-by-deed in history was 9/11 -- not just the most destructive, but the most spectacular and telegenic. [...] And now its self-proclaimed architect, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, has been given by the Obama administration a civilian trial in New York. Just as the memory fades, 9/11 has been granted a second life -- and KSM, a second act: "9/11, The Director's Cut," narration by KSM. [...] September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself. A decade later, the deed will be given voice. KSM has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable -- a civilian trial in the media capital of the world -- from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America."
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Propaganda: Is terrorists trials a propaganda win or loss?

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Mixed approach: Is a mix of civilian trials and military tribunals justified?

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Economics: What are the economic pros and cons?

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Public opinion: Where does public opinion stand on this issue?

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  • Public opinion irrelevant to merits of civilian trial of terrorists. Justice is justice, and judicial process is judicial process. This is the case no matter where public opinion stands on an issue. If it is right to try a terrorist in civilian courts, than this should be done, irrespective of what the public thinks.
  • Trying and imprisoning terrorists will be popular where it creates jobs. The jobs created to handle the trying and imprisoning of terrorists are an attractive component of bringing them to US territory, particularly during economic difficulties. This is demonstrate in Illinois, where Senator Dick Durbin (D) has been seeking the opportunity for precisely this reason - to create jobs and possibly even win greater voter support.[10]
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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links and resources

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