After Verdict, Some Question Civilian Prosecution In Terror Cases


The mixed verdict in the case of the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court on Wednesday re-ignited a debate over the Obama administration's effort to restore the role of the traditional criminal justice system in handling terrorism prosecutions, reports the New York Times. Ahmed Ghailani will face between 20 years and life in prison after he was convicted on one charge related to the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. But because a jury acquitted him on more than 280 other charges — including every count of murder — critics of the Obama administration's strategy on detainees said the verdict proved that civilian courts should not be trusted to handle the prosecution of terrorists.

U.S. Rep Peter King, a Long Island Republican, called the verdict a “wake-up call.” He said, “We must treat them as wartime enemies and try them in military commissions at Guantanamo.” Addng political force of such criticism, King is set to become the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in January, and he promised to use oversight hearings to pressure the administration over its handling of terrorism trials. Other soon-to-be-powerful Republican lawmakers made similar statements denouncing the use of civilian courts to prosecute terrorism cases. Still, some proponents of using the regular court system rejected potrayals of the verdict as a disaster. Mason Clutter of the Constitution Project said Ghailani will serve a lengthy sentence and will have far fewer arguments to make in appealing his conviction than if he had faced a military trial.

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