With the tragic attacks in Beirut and Paris, terrorism holds the focus of the global community once again. Yet after countless military operations, covert police raids, and intelligence agency deployments, there remains a vexing problem—what do we do with these terrorists once they are detained? For too long, trials of terror suspects in the United States have been shrouded behind a veil of secrecy, making the denial of basic rights to suspects institutionalized in a practice that, at its core, has not been very efficient at convicting those suspects to begin with. Military tribunals represent an outdated system of justice that not only sets forth questionable ethical guidelines on behalf of the rights of the accused, but also hold the United States back in terms of compliance with international law governing the treatment of war criminals, regardless of the debate over the definition of “unlawful combatants.”
The fact that the setup of military tribunals has allowed for such systemic denial of legal rights for individuals suspected of terrorist activities is worrisome at best and heinous at worst. In accordance with the Bush administration’s ad hoc creation of military tribunals following the launch of the War on Terror, defendants are denied private meetings with their attorneys and are not allowed to have access to the scope of evidence brought against them. Even in light of rules designed to prevent information obtained through torture and tactics involving abuse of prisoners making their way into trials, presiding officers can still allow testimony obtained through coercion to be heard in some cases. Moreover, prosecutors are allowed to bring forth evidence based on hearsay normally inadmissible under the scope of federal courts, the result being that the defense is limited in opportunities to challenge the testimony of witnesses in many cases. Perhaps the most significant objection to the way these tribunals operate is the distinct lack of oversight built into their construction—presiding judges are exclusively high-ranking military officers, and panelists (tribunal equivalents of juries) are made up of a pool of selected military officials. The result is a system that has no oversight from Congress or the system of federal courts, and little input from the executive branch. The denial of basic judicial rights to those accused of even the most high-profile crimes, combined with the fact that these trials are largely conducted in secret, amount to codifying the very conditions that led to the systemic abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. More must be done to conduct these trials in a reasonable manner that allows for some degree of influence stemming from other branches of government.
The proposed solution here is not dramatic, and, in fact, has already shown promise over the course the past decade. The existing system of federal courts, in which suspects charged with crimes of terrorism are guaranteed the same legal rights as every other citizen of the United States, has been remarkably successful and efficient at bringing those suspects to justice. The terms of the Military Order of November 13, 2001, explicitly stated that the goal of setting up the system of tribunals was to “…provide for a full and fair trial…[and] have exclusive jurisdiction with respect to offenses by the individual.” That intended goal clearly has not been brought to fruition, as evidenced by only buy generic viagra from china http://kotisivujayrityksille.com/user/register four successful convictions of Guantanamo suspects that have been found through military tribunals since the order was issued. That number is down from eight total convictions just a few years ago, as four other suspects were cleared of charges through successful appeals. Meanwhile, 127 prisoners from 17 countries continue to await trial, two of which are being held indefinitely due to sentencing delays.
In stark contrast to the long processes of tribunals, federal courts are markedly more efficient—though this is in part because they operate using a very different working definition of what exactly constitutes as terrorism. But even the most conservative definition has resulted in approximately 150 to 200 total convictions since 2001. In tandem with these promising results, human rights organizations and advocacy groups put forth compelling cases in arguing that the system of federal courts is perhaps better equipped to deal with cases involving terrorism. Military tribunals can only hear trials on charges constituting war crimes, while federal courts can hear charges of conspiracy and material support of terrorist groups, among others. The slow, painstaking process of setting up individual tribunals for each case pales in comparison to the more effective judicial system that operates under the conventional legal system, and is headed by civilian judges and juries of American citizens—in such cases, all participants normally undergo strict security clearance measures.
Those arguing for the continued usage of military tribunals offer analysis pointing out that certain locations on United States soil could become targets for future attacks if Guantanamo detainees are brought into the country. Moreover, defenders of the current system purport that federal court trials result in troublesome, high-profile security details for judges, jurors, and prosecutors, and testimony could reveal vital information as to how intelligence is gathered in remote operations, putting lives of American troops and civilians at risk. Yet, the distinct track record of success in these cases so far has proven most of these arguments to be theoretically true at best. Even so, the nature of terrorist attacks lies not only in their unpredictability but also the widespread fear and hysteria they elicit. The current tribunal system does little more than drag out and sensationalize the legal process. Moving terror trials out of the shrouded mystery of tribunals and into federal courtrooms in effect treats these suspects the exact way they do not want to be treated—just like everyone else. Removing a comparatively sensationalized approach to bringing those charged with terrorism to justice will do more in the way of bringing about a process that has the potential to be both fair and secure, shifting the focus away from the false dichotomy between liberty and security. During times of tragedy, courts tend to defer to the more heavy-handed approach of the executive, but this tactic has resulted in a system that is at once abusive and unavailing. Granting fair and efficient trials, even to those who attempt to disrupt the very fabric of our society, is a step in the right direction.