Capture of Bin Laden Kin Renews Debate on Courts vs. Tribunals

The capture of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, has rekindled debate over prosecuting terror suspects in civilian courts versus military tribunals.

On Friday, Mr. Abu Gaith pleaded not guilty in a federal court in lower Manhattan to charges of plotting terror against Americans, the Associated Press reported. U.S. authorities said he was a spokesman for al-Qaida.

The Wall Street Journal reported that some Republicans think Mr. Abu Ghaith belongs before a military tribunal at Guanatamo. “Al Qaeda leaders captured on the battlefield should not be brought to the United States to stand trial,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We should treat enemy combatants like the enemy.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said that the terror suspect would become entitled to the rights of a U.S. citizen — including a speedy trial — by being in New York, Politico reported. 

Ayotte said, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “When we find somebody like this, this close to bin Laden and the senior Al Qaeda leadership, the last thing in the world we want to do, in my opinion, is put them in civilian court. This man should be in Guantanamo Bay.”

At CNN, senior national security analyst Peter Bergen wrote a piece entitled, “Trying Osama’s son-in-law in New York makes sense.” The Obama administration wants to close Guantanamo, not add more detainees there, he said. Also, he wrote, “the conviction rate since 9/11 in these kinds of terrorism cases is 100% in New York courts when it comes to allegations of any kind of involvement in al Qaeda or its allied organizations.”

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act and other policies have weakened the historic power of courts to protect our rights and check possible government abuses, Justice at Stake says on its web site. To learn more, see Justice at Stake’s “Courting Danger” report.

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