Jim Kouri
White House still unsure where to try 9-11 suspects
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By Jim Kouri
March 18, 2011

The Obama White House, the Departments of Justice and Defense, as well as the State Department seem to be unsure of where to hold the trials of five alleged terrorists accused of being co-conspirators of the 9/11 terrorist attack, according to the testimony of Pentagon officials yesterday.

During his House Armed Services Committee testimony, the Pentagon's legal counsel, Jeff Johnson, advised the panel of Congressmen to allow the Obama Administration, Pentagon and the Attorney General to have some leeway in choosing the venues for the trials.

While Attorney General Eric Holder continues to champion the civilian criminal justice system as the best venue for trying terrorists being help at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are others, mostly Republicans and military commanders who believe the military system, as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, would be the better venue.

"In terms of the controversy surrounding our detention, we're moving in a good direction. We're doing better in the courts. I think we've had seven consecutive decisions in habeas where the government has prevailed. We're doing better, and I actually believe we're winning back some credibility in the courts. I think we took some hits, and we're winning back credibility," Johnson told the congressmen.

The Deputy Defense Secretary, William Lynn III, told the congressional panel that President Barack Obama "is committed to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center."

"Our goal is to ensure a system of detention that is balanced and fair with respect to the detainees and is sustainable and credible with the US courts, the Congress, the American people, and our allies," he stated.

Lynn pointed out that he understood that the Obama White House, the Defense Department and the Attorney General has worked with the Congress to reform military commissions, most notably through the Military Commissions Act of 2009 which was passed with bipartisan congressional support.

"With that piece of legislation and other reforms we believe that the military commissions along with the federal civilian courts are an important tool to bring detainees to justice," he said.

"At the same time we respectfully disagree with the restrictions that the Congress has imposed on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States in order to prosecute them in federal court. As the President has made clear and as the secretary of defense has stated publicly, we must have available to us all tools that exist for preventing and combating international terrorist activity and protecting our nation, including the option of prosecuting terrorists in federal court," Lynn said.

But many in both the military services and the law enforcement community believe that the best route would be the military commissions.

"Most of these suspects were apprehended on the battlefield or in foreign countries and were never given Miranda warnings, allowed access to lawyers and provided speedy trials. The civilian courts would view this situation as denying suspects their constitutional rights," said former police homicide detective and military intelligence officer Mike Snopes.

"Allow these suspects access to all the same rights given to an American soldier who is court martialed. Or do we give terrorists access to civilian courts, but American service members are tried by military courts? Somehow that seems absurd on its face," said Snopes.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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