Last week a jury of twelve men and women heard the closing arguments in the first major terrorist trial in the United States since 2015. This week that same jury starts deliberations as to the guilt or innocence of an international terrorist. Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the leader of the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi is being tried for his role in the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility on September 11, 2012 and the attack on the CIA Annex on September 12th. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty were killed during these attacks. Two other Americans, David Ubben and Mark Geist were severely wounded.
Ahmed Abu Khatallah’s trial began in the US District Court in Washington, DC on October 2, 2017. This trial shows that justice for an international terrorist is capable of being rendered in our courts. But this is nothing new. Terrorist have been tried in US courts to include Ramzi Yousef (first World Trade Center Bombing), Omar Abdel-Rahman (Blind Sheikh), Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid (Shoe Bomber), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (US Embassy Bombings), Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (Al-Qaeda Spokesman), and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Underwear Bomber).
Presidential powers during war are entitled to a heavy measure of deference. Initially after the September 11th attacks the focus was to obtain intelligence on the second wave and additional plots by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had declared war on the United States. Thus, that is why terrorists were sent to Guantanamo Bay. However, with the passing of time the ability and need to obtain actionable intelligence had passed with the terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay. Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured and interrogated as he was transported across the Atlantic Ocean by USS New York Navy ship. After being interrogated by intelligence officers, a “clean” FBI team came and “interviewed” him after advising him of his Miranda rights. The statements given to FBI Agents aboard the USS New York were admitted into evidence by a Federal judge. This is the model for the future.
On June 6, 1945, Justice Jackson issued a written report to President Truman. In the report Justice Jackson stated he had selected staff, worked out a plan for preparation, briefings and the Nuremberg trials. Justice Jackson also instructed those engaged in the collection and processing of evidence, visited the European theater to expedite examination of captured documents and the interrogations of witnesses and prisoners.
On October 7, 1946, Justice Jackson reported that the International Military Tribunal sitting in Nuremberg, Germany found 19 of the 22 defendants guilty and acquitted 3 individuals. Justice Jackson mentioned the “magnitude of the task” that was under taken. I seriously doubt, William Gladstone, the English barrister and former Prime Minister said that “Justice delayed is Justice denied. President Truman after World War II appointed one of the most able minds in the American legal system to secure justice. Former President Obama stated in his first State of the Union that “there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America.” Since he came into office, too much time had been spent on the politics of closing Guantanamo Bay rather than how Justice might be that American example for the world. Let’s not delay Justice any longer. We owe this to all those who have lost loved ones.
While President Trump campaigned on sending more terrorists to Guantanamo Bay both Ahmed Abu Khatallah and Mustafa al-Imam have been brought to the United States and brought before a Federal Court. The wheels of justice have been in motion ever since they have been brought before the District Court. On Monday November 20, 2017, District Court Judge Christopher Cooper will have the jury in Ahmed Abu Khatallah’s case deliberating and he will then have a status hearing to proceed with Mustafa al-Imam’s trial.
The Military Tribunal System in Guantanamo Bay has been a failure since it has not delivered justice. President Trump should with all haste turn over the Guantanamo prisoners for trial in our Federal Courts. President Truman was blessed to have such an able Supreme Court Justice handle the Nuremberg Trials. But the politics today would probably never allow a sitting Supreme Court Justice to do what Justice Jackson did back then. Congress has shown no political courage to draft legislation that passes Constitutional muster and too often members of Congress have just used this issue for their own or their party’s own gains in the media and with voters.
No terrorists have attacked an American city because Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi Yousef, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith are serving out their sentences in prison. The Super Max Prisons in the United States can securely hold the Guantanamo Prisoners and would do so much cheaper. The Rule of Law and Justice deems that those terrorist in Guantanamo Bay be tried for their crimes. And we must also seek to capture Sufian bin Qumu, and bring him to answer for his role in the Benghazi attacks. Qumu, a former detainee held in Guantanamo Bay was released to Libya in 2007. The Libyan Government released him from prison in 2008. Until then justice will remain fleeting. And let us all take notice how the District Court in Washington, D.C. has gone about its business of being that stellar example of Justice and the Rule of Law.