Why Sulaiman Abu Ghaith Should Be Tried in Federal Court

13.3.13

If you have the time, please look at “Abu Ghaith and All Terror Suspects Should Be Tried in Federal Courts,” an article I wrote that was published yesterday as part of US News & World Report’s “Debate Club.” In the article, I support the decision to prosecute alleged Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, recently extradited from Jordan, in a federal court in New York.

If you like the article, please vote for it (click on the “up” arrow just below the heading).

There are seven articles in total in the debate, comprising a variety of viewpoints, and it is important that those of us who believe in justice and the rule of law send a message to those who advocate military commissions, military custody, sending Abu Ghaith to Guantánamo and/or subjecting him to torture, by voting them down in the debate, as their poisonous opinions are groundless and damaging to all notions of justice.

As I point out in my article, terrorism is a crime, and federal courts are the correct venue for trying crimes. The military commission system — which should never have been revived by the Bush administration — is a broken, discredited system that is not fit for purpose, and the suggestion, by lawmakers including Mitch McConnell, that Abu Ghaith should be sent to Guantánamo, where he can be “fulsomely and continuously interrogated,” is a disgrace.

I fully acknowledge that federal courts are problematical for anyone accused of crimes related to terrorism, because disproportionate sentences are common, and acquittals almost non-existent. Statistically, this indicates a dangerous lack of objectivity when terrorism is invoked in relation to Muslims. However, holding people without charge or trial, or subjecting them to trials by military commission (a second class trial system for foreign terror suspects only) isn’t a viable alternative.

We need to make sure that indefinite detention and military commissions are done away with, while simultaneously pushing the US justice system — and the American people — to recognize that there is a problem with the almost 100 percent conviction rate in the cases of Muslims accused of terrorism, the punitive sentences involved and the plea deals that resolve so many cases.

In the article, I also take the opportunity to blame President Obama for not closing Guantánamo, as he promised, and to urge him to find the courage to push for the release of the 86 men (out of 166 in total) who are still held despite being cleared for release between three and four years ago by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. I did not have additional space in the article, but if I had I would also have urged him to initiate reviews for the 46 others who he promised would have their cases reviewed when he designated them for indefinite detention in an executive order two years ago.

Congress is partly to blame for the fact that 86 cleared prisoners are still held, because of obstacles lawmakers have cynically raised to prevent the prison’s closure, but so too is President Obama, because it was he who imposed a ban on the release of any cleared Yemenis (who make up two-thirds of the cleared prisoners still held), in response to the failed bomb plot in December 2009 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian recruited in Yemen.

In the case of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, I conclude in my article that President Obama made the right call. If you agree, please read the article and vote for it

Also, of course, remember that President Obama needs to do much more to close Guantánamo than he has done to date. A version of this article was sent out yesterday as an email to the supporters of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established last year with the attorney Tom Wilner. If you agree with our position, please consider joining the campaign. Just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Thomas says...

    Torture just makes the tortured one say whatever the torturer wants to hear.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Thomas. Thanks for that.

  3. Tom says...

    Part of why Abu Ghaith’s being tried in a NY federal court? Spin control. With Bin Laden, intl. law says he should have been tried. However, it was clear from Obama on down people just wanted blood. Now with Abu Ghaith, the perceived “risk” if you will to NYC, Bloomberg and other politicians and DA’s is lower. We can still lock him up in solitary in a NY prison and control much of this trial thru claiming “it’s classified”. Besides, before Bin Laden was killed, how many people knew Abu Ghaith? How many still don’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni? Are there different Taliban factions? I may not be Obama’s National Security Advisor. Despite that, I do try to know what’s going on in the world (as do many others on this site).

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I imagine there are also some within the US establishment looking at the possibility of one day having to drop the military commissions and try prisoners held at Guantanamo in federal court.

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