Sunday, November 21, 2010

Michael Gerson gets it right on Eric Holder and terror trials

About a year ago we wrote of the American government’s decision, announced by Attorney General Eric Holder, that terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay would be tried in civilian courts. We thought it would be a disaster, and it turns out we were right. The first Guantanamo Bay prisoner tried in civilian court beat the U.S. last week when a jury of our peers convicted him of 1 out of 200 plus charges arising from the 1998 African embassy bombings.

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, takes Holder and the Obama Administration to task for using the civilian court to try Ahmed Ghailani and losing the case. (A minor conviction was gotten.)

The case of embassy bomber Ahmed Ghailani - the only Guantanamo Bay detainee the Obama administration has brought to trial in the United States - was intended to increase public faith in civilian prosecutions. But a terrorist hugging his lawyers in victory can’t be considered a confidence builder. Days before the Ghailani verdict, the White House admitted that Mohammed, because of massive, public resistance, would not be seeing the inside of a Manhattan courtroom anytime soon. “Gitmo,” one official told The Washington Post, “is going to remain open for the foreseeable future.”

We’ve been personally through this type of trial before. The case of Sami Al-Arian. The weaknesses in both cases was pretty much the same-- the trial took place years after the event in question, many charges were brought, and the evidence is confusing. In my opinion, more than the layperson can digest.

So, Gerson asks the question,

Where do these developments leave Holder, for whom failure is not only an option but a habit? A recent profile by Wil Hylton in GQ attempts to put his tenure in the best possible light - the lonely, naive man of principle undone by politics. But the portrait is unintentionally devastating. Holder clearly views the war on terrorism as a distraction. “The biggest surprise I’ve had in this job,” he told Hylton, “is how much time the national security issues take.”


By insisting on civilian trials for terrorists, the Obama-Holder team embarked on a dangerous course of action. Obama needs a way to back off this course and get the next trials before military tribunals, where they belong.

National security is not a traffic infraction violation. It’s life and death stuff and we should learn to play by the rules need for it. And that’s what I think.

Read the full Op-ed.


shana maydel said...

I agree that these cases should naturally be brought to trial through military tribunals and not civilian trials. I'm wondering just how long Mr. Al-Arian can remain under house arrest and his life in limbo, if in fact our government hasn't already finished this case off. Maybe our government will learn something from a jury of our peers and move these matters through the military from now on. What a waste of time and to what end?

Stephen M. Flatow said...

Al-Arian and the US Attorney office are waiting for a judge to decide a contempt case against him for refusing to testify in a terror case.
The Al-Arian case was destined for disaster since it was brought 8 years after the incidents for which he was indicted; the trial took months; and the evidence was simply beyond the comprehension of the good people of Tampa, Florida who sat on the jury.
Hopefully, Al-Arian will be deported sooner rather than later.