Trials for terrorists highlight America’s system of justice

Congressman Westmoreland’s recent editorial claiming that President Obama needs to learn about “the real world,” written in response to Obama’s decision to try terrorists in federal courts, reveals the Congressman’s lack of faith in the institutions of the country that he supposedly represents.

According to the Justice Department, the civilian courts in the United States have tried 195 cases of terrorism since 2001 with a 91 percent conviction rate. Most of these convictions came during the Bush administration and included very high profile extremist cases like those of Zacarias Moussaoui, Jose Padilla, Richard Reid, James Ujaama, Iyman Faris, and the Lackawanna Six. In contrast, military tribunals have been successful in only three minor cases.

At a recent conference sponsored by the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security and the Merrill Center for Strategic Studies of the Paul. H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the central legal questions that emerged concerned how to try suspected terrorists, against what laws, by what court or tribunal or commission system, and with what procedural and evidentiary safeguards. Federal judges who have presided over terrorism trials forcefully contended that civilian courts are fully competent to try such cases, including cases that involve classified information.

As usual, it is hard to determine whether Congressman Westmoreland is pandering to his base or if he is actually ignorant of history. His allegation that President Obama is somehow conjuring up outrageous legal rights for terrorists by allowing them lawyers, trials, access to habeas corpus petitions and Miranda rights simply ignores the fact that these rights are mandated by the United States Constitution as decided in recent years by the Supreme Court in the cases of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Rasul v. Bush, and Odah v. United States.

So there will be no doubt as to his position, Mr. Westmoreland goes on to make absolutely clear his disdain for the Constitution with his statement that President Obama’s invoking Constitutional law is merely some kind of ploy aimed at “appeasing his leftist supporters.” That someone would deride those of us who respect the Constitution as “appeasers” is shocking. Coming from a United States congressman, the sentiment is nothing less than appalling.

The ability to demonstrate our justice system in a case involving one of the world’s top terrorists represents an important opportunity to highlight Western ideals and display confidence in America’s system of justice. Instead, Congressman Westmoreland exposes his doubts in our system and shows his willingness to abandon any and all of the legal principles that the West has historically used.

Mr. Westmoreland also shows his mendaciousness with his statement that “we can outlaw interrogation techniques such as water boarding,” pretending that the issue has not long been settled.

In the “real world” that Congressman Westmoreland is so eager for President Obama to join, water boarding has been determined to be torture and a domestic crime as well as an international war crime since at least 1898 when the United States successfully prosecuted cases stemming from the Spanish-American War.

An unbroken string of criminal prosecutions for water boarding exists for over 100 years, including a number of cases brought by the United States in international courts following World War II. The latest domestic case was brought by Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department with the prosecution and sentencing of a Texas sheriff and his deputies in 1983.

In a recent opinion piece, Bob Barr urged that we uphold our system’s constitutional principles when dealing with terrorists by “... trying terrorism suspects in regular federal courts rather than military commissions and rejecting indefinite detention without charges. These principles recognize that we can keep our country safe while still adhering to the rule of law and the values that are embodied in our Constitution.” Values that Congressman Westmoreland seems eager to reject.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton warned: “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates ... to be more safe [nations] at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” Mr. Westmoreland has failed to heed Hamilton’s warning.

Finally, Mr. Westmoreland shows his superficial understanding of the real world with his statement that the terrorists “... have a single-minded focus on killing Americans...”. No. They employ the tactics of terrorism and try to kill Americans because they have a single-minded focus on destroying American ideals and values and trying to undermine our freedoms as guaranteed by our Constitutional government.

Westmoreland’s willingness to embrace war crimes, his demonstrable lack of faith in our American institutions, and his readiness to abandon our Constitution and historic legal principals shows that he has already been defeated.

Jeff Carter

Peachtree City, Ga.