New York Times: Setback for the Obama Administration’s Goal of Trying Terrorist Detainees in Civilian Courts

Dec 13, 2010
Defense Drumbeat
House Republican “Pledge to America” Demands Overarching Terrorist Detention Policy, Terrorists Be Kept Out of the United States

Washington, D.C. (October 7, 2010)—In a setback for the Administration’s trial-by-error terrorist prosecution program, a federal judge in New York yesterday barred the testimony of a key government witness in the case against Ahmed Ghailani—who has been accused of playing a role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

According to an article in The New York Times, “The ruling by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan would seem to be a setback for the Obama administration’s goal of trying former detainees in civilian courts, because it would limit the kinds of evidence that prosecutors could introduce.  Mr. Ghailani became the first former detainee to be moved into the civilian court system for trial.”

An article in today’s Politico called the ruling a “major setback for the prosecution.”   The article continued: “The uncertainty caused by this ruling—which could increase Ghailani’s chances of acquittal—is likely to put more pressure on Obama to reject Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan for five Guantanamo prisoners to stand trial in civilian court for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

In contrast, Congressional Republicans have encouraged the Administration to develop comprehensive and coherent terrorist detention and prosecution policies that do not undermine America’s national security.  In their “Pledge to America,” House Republicans stressed the following key points:

  • Demand an Overarching Detention Policy:  Foreign terrorists do not have the same rights as American citizens, nor do they have more rights than U.S. military personnel. We will work to ensure foreign terrorists, such as the 9/11 conspirators, are tried in military, not civilian, court. We will oppose all efforts to force our military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel operating overseas to extend ‘Miranda Rights’ to foreign terrorists.
  • Keep Terrorists Out of America: We will prevent the government from importing terrorists onto American soil. We will hold President Obama and his administration responsible for any Guantanamo Bay detainees they release who return to fight against our troops or who have become involved in any terrorist plots or activities.

Responding to the new development, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) stated: “The President and his Administration continue to pursue a mistaken preference for prosecuting terrorists in U.S. civilian courts.  Congress has provided the Administration with a judicial structure more suitable to trying terrorists captured in the ongoing war on terror.  The President should shift from his current trial-by-error strategy and prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ahmed Ghailani and their cohorts in military commissions where these cases belong.”     

111th Congress