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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.