The Danger of Trying Terrorists in Civilian Court

I, like so many others, am deeply concerned about Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute 9/11 plotters in civilian court. My fear, like that of many critics, is that they might be acquitted. Eric Holder said today that “failure was not an option.” This concerns me, in that the U.S. legal system begins with an assumption of innocence. While prosecutors clearly do not begin with a presumption of innocence, I do not believe that there is any way to go into a trial with absolute certainty of a conviction.

My problem is, what happens if the suspects are acquitted. My concern is not that terrorist might go free (though I see that as a problem also), but the far graver threat to the United States that might arise if we are unwilling to accept a “not guilty” verdict from a civil criminal trial.

Our system of justice is constructed to protect the rights of the citizens of the United States. It is, at times, overly complex, and seems to release people on technicalities. Yet those technicalities exist for a reason. We cannot allow them to be discarded. Moreover, we cannot allow them to ignored when the crime is sufficiently heinous or high-profile. If these rights are not absolute rights, they are not rights at all.

The danger of trying suspected terrorists in civil court is that we may damage our very system of justice in the attempt to ensure that they are found guilty. If that happens, we truly have let the terrorists win.

3 replies on “The Danger of Trying Terrorists in Civilian Court”

David, I don’t think we have a two-class constitution (one for terrorists and one for everyone else) and as far as I am aware all men were created equal, including their rights in court and due process. I am thrilled to hear there is an end to the secrecy around the 9/11 masterminds and I am looking forward to a fair trial. I think prosecuting terrorists outside the normal judicial system is much more problematic.

I agree with Sascha. Although, I think that trying them on the international stage is also appropriate, as had previously happened. But I think that should be tried here, in our court system, which is the ultimate rebuke to their efforts to weaken America.

Sacha, I agree with you that there shouldn’t be a 2 class system. My concern is that we are not in an emotional place to be able to accept the possibility that they be found “not guilty.” If we cannot conceive of a “not guilty” verdict, is it possible for the suspect to receive a fair trial? If the suspect cannot receive a fair trial, the very act of trying them is an abridgment of their rights.

In many cases, I’m much more concerned for the rights of the accused. In this case, while I think those rights are important, I think the question of the damage we might do to our own system of justice is far more troubling, and in the long-run, could impact the rights of far more people than the specific individuals being tried in these cases.

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