Civilian Court Trials Seem Like ‘Empty Gesture’

The lawyer for the five defendants who will be tried in New York says his clients will plead not guilty so that they can air their criticisms of U.S. foreign policy. Attorney Scott Fenstermaker told Associated Press recently the men would not deny their role in the September 11, 2001, attacks but “would explain what happened and why they did it” as well as “their assessment of American foreign policy.” (See related article)

Robert Alt, deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, wonders why the Justice Department is trying some but not all of the Guantanamo Bay terrorists in civilian courts.

“They don’t even seem to have a justification for why it is we’re trying some of them — ‘It adheres to the rule of law,’ [they say]. Well, it also adheres to the rule of law to try them before military commissions,” Alt contends. “It’s fully consistent with the laws of war.”

According to the Heritage spokesman, explanations as to why the trial is taking place in a civilian court imply the action is merely a formality. “[I]ndeed, some of the statements that they’ve made, they’ve said that they’ll get the guilty conviction, they’re confident of that. And there were suggestions by [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and others that if they don’t, that they can still hold them as enemy combatants and wouldn’t release them,” he states. “Well, that sounds like they’ve already come to the conclusion in the case.”

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