Terrorism Suspects Should be Prosecuted in Federal Court
March 8, 2013
Some people may feel on a gut level that terrorism suspects should be treated differently somehow, but it’s long been clear that federal courts are the best and fairest places to try them.
Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor

(New York) – The Obama administration’s decision to try an alleged al Qaeda figure in federal court rather than before a military commission at Guantanamo best serves the interests of justice. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who had been an al Qaeda spokesman, was indicted on a criminal charge of conspiracy to kill United States citizens. He appeared in US District Court in Manhattan on March 8, 2013, and pleaded not guilty.

“Some people may feel on a gut level that terrorism suspects should be treated differently somehow, but it’s long been clear that federal courts are the best and fairest places to try them,” said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch. “The military commissions in Guantanamo have been proven unable to deliver real justice.”

The convictions in the two trials before military commissions at Guantanamo have already been overturned on appeal. The rules for such trials are new and are being changed repeatedly. The result is that cases only go to trial years after the alleged conduct. Even then, the trials have gotten bogged down in procedural matters that would go uncontested in federal courts. So many appellate issues are raised that the verdicts are not reliable compared with those before federal courts, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Obama administration's decision to try Abu Ghaith in federal court shows it doesn't buy into its own war paradigm,” Pitter said. “Guantanamo and the military commissions exist because of politics, not because they represent the best way to prosecute terrorism suspects.”