Gavel Grab

Editorial: Right Choice on Prosecuting Terror Suspect

The Obama administration has correctly decided to prosecute in federal court a Somali national accused of supporting al Qaeda, a New York Times editorial declares.

“Hundreds of accused terrorists have been convicted in civilian courts since 9/11. Only six — none of them major Qaeda figures — have been convicted in the military commissions carelessly confected by the Bush administration and renewed, with significantly stricter rules and procedures, by the Obama administration,” the editorial says.

Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was interrogated aboard a Navy ship before he was taken to New York and indicted recently (see Gavel Grab). The administration elected not to send the new prisoner to Guantanamo Bay, the military detention facility that President Obama wants to close. Congress has voted to block funds for delivering Guantanamo detainees into the United States.

While the Times editorial agrees with prosecuting Warsame in civilian court, it takes issue with the Obama administration’s handling of his “secret interrogation at sea.” The editorial warns:

“President Obama has created yet another parallel system of unlimited detention and interrogation without rights outside the constitutional norms that served us well for more than two centuries before the Bush administration carelessly and needlessly tossed them aside for terrorism cases after Sept. 11, 2001.”

A number of Republican lawmakers have criticized the handling of Warsame’s case, saying such detainees should be taken to Guantanamo for trial before a military commission.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that 23 senators, most of them Republicans, questioned in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta whether the administration’s handling of the case contravenes Congress’ desires that terrorism suspects be tried before military commissions,

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Debate Over Handling of Somali Terror Suspect

The Obama administration’s decision to charge a Somali man in federal court on terrorism charges has triggered new debate over the best venue for prosecuting detainees.

Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was interrogated aboard a Navy ship before he was taken to New York and indicted. With his case, “the Obama administration is trying out a new approach for dealing with foreign terrorism suspects,” according to a New York Times article.

The administration elected not to send the new prisoner to Guantanamo Bay, the military detention facility that President Obama wants to close. In addition, Congress has voted to block funds for delivering Guantanamo detainees into the United States.

Leading Republicans criticized the handling of Warsame, saying such detainees should be taken to Guantanamo for trial before a military commission.

“The administration has purposefully imported a terrorist into the U.S. and is providing him all the rights of U.S. citizens in court,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said last week. Over the weekend, he added another concern, saying the acquittal of a Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter showed why the U.S. courts can’t be relied upon for prosecuting terror suspects, according to a Fox News report.

In other quarters, there have been ringing endorsements of the approach taken with Warsame.

“Obama administration shows how to treat a terrorist suspect,” declared a Los Angeles Times editorial headline. It went on: “Bringing Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the U.S. for a civilian trial demonstrates to the world that the United States is willing to afford due process even to its bitterest enemies.” Read more

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Terror Suspects Face Refiled Charges

Murder and terrorism charges were refiled by military prosecutors against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and four co-defendants.

The five are headed for prosecution before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, according to an Associated Press article.

Charges lodged against them earlier were dropped in 2009 when the Obama administration planned to close the military detention facility in Cuba, eliminate the military commission process for trying terror suspects and prosecute the five in civilian courts in New York. Under a backlash of bipartisan opposition, however, that plan was withdrawn (see Gavel Grab).

Defenders of the federal courts have maintained the terror suspects could be tried successfully there.

Federal courts, said C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First, “have successfully convicted more than 400 persons of terror-related crimes since 9/11, have more criminal laws to incapacitate possible terrorists and have more than 200 years of precedent to guide them.”

You can learn more about the debate over prosecuting terror suspects before military tribunals, or in civilian courts, from Gavel Grab.

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Editorial Salutes Veto Threat on Detainee Limits

President Obama has responded to House-passed limits on his authority to deal with Guantanamo detainees by issuing his first veto threat.

A Washington Post editorial applauds Obama’s stance, saying he “seems willing to fight” after lawmakers have repeatedly sought to tie his hands on dealing with detainees. “It’s about time,” the editorial adds about the president’s new posture.

One provision of a House-passed defense bill would bar the president from prosecuting Guantanamo prisoners in federal court. Another would require foreign nationals charged with acts of terrorism to be tried only before military commissions.

Obama, the editorial says, “is justified in fighting against the attempt to strip federal courts from his anti-terrorism arsenal.” It quotes a White House statement that said, “Presidents of both political parties — including Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush — have leveraged the flexibility and strength of our Federal courts to incapacitate dangerous terrorists and gather critical intelligence.”

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Patriot Act Appears Headed for Renewal

Over objections raised by both civil libertarians and tea party supporters, the Senate easily advanced renewal for four years of the nation’s anti-terrorism law, the Patriot Act.

A final vote in the Senate and also a House vote were expected later, but the Senate vote of 74-8 on a procedural step to bring the measure’s renewal to the floor showed strong support.

The bill would renew the government’s authority to spy on a “lone wolf,” a non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism who may not belong to a known terrorist group; and it would extend provisions for roving wiretap court orders and for court orders to seize “any tangible things” judged relevant to a terrorism probe.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was a leader in opposing the measure. He contended it involved swapping privacy for national security, according to a Los Angeles Times article. “We cannot give up our liberty. If we do, if we trade it for security, we’ll have neither,” Paul said.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union, which tried to amend the law. Congress and the administration, Richardson said, “are no longer pursuing meaningful reforms that would protect privacy.”

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9/11 Trial Plan Gets Mixed Editorial Reaction

In major newspapers, editorial reaction was decidedly mixed after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be tried in a military commission at Guantanamo (see Gavel Grab).

“Cowardice Blocks the 9/11 Trial,” trumpeted the headline for a New York Times editorial. It lamented:

“Monday’s announcement represents a huge missed opportunity to prove the fairness of the federal court system and restore the nation’s reputation for providing justice for all.”

The editorial labeled the decision to retreat from holding a trial in a federal courtroom in New York City “a victory for Congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which failed to stand up to it.”

But given the circumstances, it added, “Mr. Holder is right to push for a military trial for Mr. Mohammed, rather than let him linger in indefinite limbo.”

A Washington Post editorial applauded what it called the “Right call on Sept. 11 defendants, military trials.” The editorial asserted: Read more

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9/11 Suspects to Face Trial at Gitmo

Completing a reversal by the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four accused co-conspirators will be tried at Guantanamo Bay, rather than in a civilian court in New York.

Mohammed  (photo at left) is the professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Holder said the defendants will be tried before a military commission.

In 2009, Holder (photo at right) decided to prosecute the defendants in a federal courthouse in New York City. But a political backlash erupted, and that plan was abandoned.

Holder pointed a finger at Congress in announcing the new plan, according to a Los Angeles Times article:

“We were prepared to bring a powerful case against the 9/11 defendants in federal court, and had this case proceeded as planned, I’m confident our justice system would have performed with the same distinction that has been its hallmark for more than 200 years.”

“Unfortunately, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States.”

The announcement did not come as a total surprise, given increased resistance in Congress to transporting Guantanamo detainees into the United States and announcements that paved the way for resumed military trials of detainees at Guantanamo (see Gavel Grab).

According to a New York Times article, the announcement represented “a significant moment of capitulation in the larger collapse of the Obama administration’s effort — begun with fanfare in its opening days in office — to roll back the counterterrorism architecture left behind by former President George W. Bush.” Read more

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Indefinite Detention System Created for Gitmo

In addition to re-starting military trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, President Obama has formally set up a system of indefinite detention for prisoners held there.

The president signed Monday an executive order recognizing that some detainees at the military prison will remain there over many years.

It permits them a chance to argue successfully they do not pose a danger and should be freed, according to a Washington Post article.

“I commend the Obama Administration for issuing this Executive Order,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “The bottom line is that it affirms the Bush Administration policy that our government has the right to detain dangerous terrorists until the cessation of hostilities.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial took a similar tack. It was entitled, “Obama Ratifies Bush: The Administration embraces military tribunals at Gitmo.” The editorial began, “No one has done more to revive the reputation of Bush-era antiterror policies than the Obama Administration.”

A different reaction came from Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is virtually impossible to imagine how one closes Guantanamo in light of this executive order,” Romero said. “In a little over two years, the Obama administration has done a complete about-face.” Read more

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Military Trials at Gitmo to Resume

President Obama gave a green light Monday to resuming military trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, at the same time he repeated his backing for trying terror suspects in U.S. federal courts.

Obama said he ordered lifting of an order that had suspended filing of new charges in military tribunals at Guantanamo, according to a Reuters article. He had imposed a suspension of these charges and announced a review of detainee policy in early 2009.

The president also said in a White House statement: “I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system – including Article III Courts – to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened.”

Last year, Congress moved to block the Obama administration’s ability to shift terrorism suspects from Guantanamo to the United States for trial. The White House said it will try to get the prohibition repealed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

New procedures for “the reworked tribunals will include a ban on the use of statements taken as a result of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and a revamped system for handling classified information,” the Times article said. Read more

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Patriot Act Extension Rejected in House

The House of Representatives narrowly defeated Tuesday a measure to temporarily extend  key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main counterterrorism law.

The setback for House Republican leaders came after some tea party linked Republicans voted against the measure, and it fell seven votes shy of a two-thirds supermajority required under a procedure adopted for expedited passage.

Because the provisions are set to expire Feb. 28, a new vote is likely to be scheduled soon under regular rules, according to a Washington Post article.

A number of tea party members view the legislation as over-reaching by the government into private matters, the Los Angeles Times reported, and it said a coalition of veteran Republicans and conservative new lawmakers blocked its passage.

House Democrats split over the bill. Some saw it permitting overly broad surveillance authority. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., protested that the Patriot Act was “one of the worst laws this body has ever passed.”

The bill would renew the government’s authority to spy on a “lone wolf,” a non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism who may not belong to a known terrorist group; and it would extend provisions for roving wiretap court orders and for court orders to seize “any tangible things” judged relevant to a terrorism probe (see Gavel Grab).

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