Sunday, May 6, 2012

Theatrical production at Guantanamo could have been handled better.

Experience is a good teacher. I believe it applies to all aspects of life.  Whether you are learning your way around Facebook, your car, or any other thing worth learning, we learn best from our mistakes.

So why did the government prosecution allow the defendants to stage a theatrical production?

Prosecution of terrorists and their supporters has a history.  Mistakes have been made, yet they are fortunately far outweighed by the numerous successes.

Already the trial of terrorists that started this week at Guantanamo Bay is seemingly off to a bad start for the US.  Having been a witness, maybe a stakeholder would be a better word, in the trial of Sami Al-Arian about nine years ago, I believe I am qualified to offer my opinion as to the events now unfolding at Guantanamo Bay as the US puts several on trial for their role in the mass murder that we call "9/11."

Alisa Flatow was murdered in April 1995.  In November of that year FBI agents seized the computers and other records of Sami Al-Arian, long a vocal supporter of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Victims' parents such as myself surmised that Al-Arian would soon be indicted for a role in Kfar Darom bombing that claimed the life of one American citizen, my daughter.

That was not to be because it wasn't until years later that Al-Arian was arrested in connection with that bombing and others involving American citizens and it wasn't until 2003 that he went to trial.  Found not guilty of the most serious charges, and a mistrial  declared on the others, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to providing material support to PIJ and was sentenced to a term in prison to be followed by his deportation.  (He's still in this country.)

What went wrong in the Al-Arian case?  To my way of thinking, the delay between seizing the evidence, interpreting it and presenting it at trial was almost eight long years.  Add to that a plethora of charges, and the inherent difficulty in proving conspiracy cases, and we wound up with almost nothing.

So now we turn to the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.  A prosecution more than 11 years after 9/11 is the best we can get.  So we have to deal with it.  But, already, a mistake has been made by allowing the defendants to be in open court and slow down the proceedings with their antics.

What should have been a short, sweet, and to-the-point hearing about pleas to the charges turned into a mockery of murder and it was directly in the face of victims' families who watched by closed circuit TV.

The defendants have been able to work on their theatrics for quite some time, and the government should have been prepared for it.  At the first sign of difficulty, these killers should have been led out of the courtroom and taken to a room where they could watch the proceedings on CCTV.  Any disruption on their end of the hearing would have been invisible, and the court could have proceeded to have an uninterrupted hearing.

Here are some links to the coverage of the hearing:

New York Daily News ; LA Times

I hope the government has learned from its mistakes. 

Well, that's what I have to say.  What do you think?

Stephen M. Flatow

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