Last week, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, an alleged spokesperson for al Qaeda, pleaded "not guilty" to charges of conspiring to kill Americans. He did so in a federal courtroom in New York City, drawing the ire of activists and policymakers alike, who say his trial should go on in a military courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I think we're now setting a new precedent that will come back to bite us," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a press conference last week. "It's clear to me they snuck him in ... under the nose of Congress." Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, joined Graham in their criticisms. They and others argued that Abu Ghaith should be tried at Guantanamo, which they say is a more appropriate venue and better equipped to mine him for intelligence.
Human rights activists, many of whom oppose the length and lack of transparency in the Guantanamo legal process, cheered the decision. In Abu Ghaith's specific case, military law experts point to the fact that he is being charged with conspiracy—not a war crime and thus out of military court's jurisdiction. Nevertheless those wishing to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay say the case shows that terror suspects can and should be charged in U.S. federal courts.
President Obama ran on the platform in 2008 of closing the Guantanamo prison but has been unable to overcome Congress's opposition to doing so; last month his administration shut down the office tasked with closing the prison.
Should Sulaiman Abu Ghaith be tried in a federal court? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Daphne Eviatar Senior Counsel Associated with Human Rights First's Law & Security Program
Andy Worthington Freelance Investigative Journalist
Danny Gonzalez Director of Communications for Move America Forward
Sterling Thomas Defense Counsel for 9/11 Defendant Ammar al Baluchi
Stephen Vladeck Professor of Law at the American University Washington College of Law
Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute
Mike Rogers Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence