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PD Editorial: Terror trial belongs in federal court

  • This image made available by Al-Jazeera shows Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and spokesman. Abu Ghaith has been captured by the United States, officials said Thursday, March 7, 2013, in what a senior congressman called a "very significant victory" in the fight against al-Qaida. (AP Photo/Al-Jazeera)

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, is one of just two suspected al-Qaida leaders captured abroad in the past four years.

Described by FBI agents as the functional equivalent of the consigliere in a Mafia family, he's awaiting trial in federal court in New York on charges of plotting to kill Americans.

"He used his position to threaten the United States and incite its enemies," said George Venizelos, chief of the FBI's field office in New York.

Predictably, the decision to try him in a civilian court was met with demands from some Republicans in Congress that he instead face a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A similar controversy upended plans to try self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants in a New York courtroom two years ago. After Congress prohibited transfers from Guantanamo to the United States, the case stayed put — and it still hasn't reached trial.

That case should have been tried in an open court where the families of 9/11 victims and the general public could watch the proceedings. And the Abu Ghaith case also belongs in U.S. District Court.

The fact is, federal courts have ably handled hundreds of terrorism cases, safely and publicly, without compromising national security or creating a threat to public safety.

Since 9/11, the U.S. Justice Department has won 438 terrorism-related convictions, many of them in the same courthouse where Abu Ghaith will stand trial, Sen. Dianne Feinstein pointed out in an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times.

"Criminal prosecutions also have been shown to be a more efficient way to bring terrorists to justice," Feinstein wrote, citing among others the convictions of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the reputed 20th 9/11 hijacker.

"Compare that with the military commission system, which has yet to deliver closure to families of 9/11 victims," Feinstein continued. "The five 9/11 co-conspirators at Guantanamo have been arraigned, but their prosecutions have been on hold for years as motions are filed, procedures written and rewritten, and appeals made on a variety of issues."


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