Are Known Terrorists Entitled to Civilian Trials?


Published February 18, 2010

One of the primary roles of the federal government is the protection of American citizens. Based on some recent decisions by the current administration, there are many people who are questioning the government’s judgment with respect to this vital responsibility. Conflict has arisen over the trials of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the Christmas “underwear” bomber, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a conspirator behind the Sept. 11 attacks. These two known terrorists, individuals whose primary intent is to kill as many Americans as possible, and who are part of a group that has declared war on America, are being given citizen rights and treated as ordinary criminals rather than as military combatants. Was this the right decision?

Mutallab attempted to detonate a bomb over Detroit on Christmas Day. Had he been successful (and he came very close), nearly 300 people would have been killed in a fiery crash, along with untold numbers of people on the ground. Soon after capture he was read his Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and right to consult with an attorney), ensuring that any vital information that could prevent future attacks would be withheld from the government. The possibility of gaining actionable intelligence on the people who sent him, planned future attacks and names of other conspirators was severely jeopardized because we gave him these rights. This terrorist, whose intent was to murder as many citizens as possible, was given a lawyer after nearly blowing up a plane. Before being read his rights, Mutallab told officials that there were more like him in Yemen—clearly a statement that required more extensive investigation. According to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, fairness, along with their interpretation of the constitution, seems to be more of a priority than ensuring the protection of American citizens.

Mohammed admitted to planning or executing 31 terrorist attacks, including the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. He was also responsible for decapitating Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.  Instead of trying him as a military combatant, the U.S. wants to give him a civilian trial in lower Manhattan.  Manhattan: the place of the attack seems the logical location to some to put on trial a man responsible for one of the most atrocious events that have occurred in America, since it would allow New Yorkers to have a direct role in bringing this man to justice.  However, there are myriad other factors that must be considered. The sheer cost of this trial is estimated at 200 million to as high as a billion dollars, during a time where deficits are at record highs. Not only that, but it places a flag on NYC for another terrorist attack and it completely disrupts the lives of New Yorkers downtown. On top of all this, families of those murdered on 9/11 will be forced to relive the pain and suffering they experienced 10 years ago.

Additionally, another cause for concern is that a civilian trial gives a platform for jihadists to spew radical, anti-American speech. But, even more importantly, it puts our intelligence at risk because it requires the release of sensitive information including names of operatives, intelligence methodology and other vital national security information through what is known as the “discovery process” or “civil discovery.” Found under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this process allows material relevant to a case that could be beneficial in creating a defense. This will likely include information that could be utilized by Al Qaeda to the detriment of our national security.

Some argue that Obama just wants to show the world we are a democratic nation. While I do not impugn these noble motives, greater caution must be used when lives are on the line. In addition, Holder and Obama have assured the American people that Mohammed and Mutallab will be found guilty and executed. So why then are we putting lives at risk for another attack, spending millions of dollars we don’t have and disrupting lower Manhattan for a lost cause? If the American public is being assured of this outcome, is this a real trial? This to me sounds like a mockery of the American judicial system.

We are talking about known killers here—they are not allegedly guilty or supposedly involved; they have both admitted to the heinous crimes they committed. Thousands of people fly on planes all the time. What if another terrorist attack were to occur because of how this situation is being handled? This is a case-closed situation: definite attackers of Americans need military trials—not a greater opportunity to murder more innocent people.