Abu Ghaith and All Terror Suspects Should Be Tried in Federal Courts
Abu Ghaith should be tried in federal court, and more should be done to close Guantanamo Bay
March 12, 2013
In the case of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former spokesman for al Qaeda and a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who is facing a federal court trial in New York, the decision to prosecute him in federal court should not be open for debate.
Enthusiasts for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have criticized the Obama administration for bringing Abu Ghaith for trial in New York. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, claimed he should have been sent to Guantanamo, where, he said, he could have been "fulsomely and continuously interrogated without having to overcome the objections of his civilian lawyers."
Senator McConnell is wrong, and his comments reveal the extent to which the Bush administration's ill-advised response to the 9/11 attacks continues to poison America's respect for the rule of law.
Terrorism is a crime, for which the correct venue for prosecution is federal court. Senator McConnell envisages Abu Ghaith being "fulsomely and continuously interrogated" at Guantanamo, but fails to explain the circumstances in which this might happen. Reading between the lines, it seems that Senator McConnell would like Abu Ghaith to be tortured at Guantanamo, but torture is a crime, even though no Bush administration officials have been held accountable for authorizing and implementing it.
In addition, genuine interrogators, rather than propagandists for torture, know that torture is illegal, immoral, and counterproductive, and that there is no information that can be obtained through torture that cannot be obtained through legal and noncoercive means. A case in point is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith himself, whose statements after his capture were included in a 22-page document that was mentioned in court when he was charged on Friday.
President Obama deserves to be criticized for his failure to close Guantanamo, as he promised four years ago, and especially for his failure to free 86 men cleared for release by his interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force during his first year in office. Congress has played a major part in this, raising legislative obstacles to the release of prisoners, but President Obama has also contributed, by imposing a blanket ban on releasing any Yemeni prisoners in the wake of a failed terrorist attack on a plane in 2009 by a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, even though two thirds of the cleared prisoners are from Yemen.
On the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, however, President Obama has made the right call. He, and all prisoners accused of terrorism, should be tried in federal court.