The first Guantanomo detainee to be tried in a civil court in New York was found guilty of one count but acquitted of over 280 other counts by a jury. See story at:
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani had been held for years before coming to trial for his alleged role in bombings of U.S. targets in the world. The federal judge ruled in his trial that a witness for the government could not testify because the identity of the witness had been coerced by the government.
Many critics point to this case as proof that the terrorist detainees should be tried in military courts. Who’s correct in this fight??
I’ve already posted a few reasons for this so let me add some more–
- After trying dozens of jury trials as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer, the fact the jury acquitted on over 280 counts strikes me not so much as a mis-carriage of justice but as a resounding affirmation of justice. It’s not that the defense was strengthened by the judge’s ruling so that they overwhelmed the government. Rather, the government’s case was so weak to begin with, maybe Mr. Ghailani should never have even been charged. In my experience, juries take their job very seriously and are extremely careful in their deliberations. They wouldn’t throw-out all of those counts unless they felt the government hadn’t come close to proving any of them beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Convictions don’t always equal justice. Sometimes, innocent people are falsely accused. Acquittals in those cases represent a just result also.
- Critics assume that a military court would have reached a different decision. I’ve been involved in military trials as a member of a JAG Corp years ago. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is different than the civil rules, but that doesn’t mean a military jury would necessarily convict in this case either.
- Critics also warn that if we tilt the scales in trials to somehow favor alleged terrorists, others will be emboldened to commit terrorist acts against the U.S., knowing they’ll get those “easy” civil juries. For one thing, the scales aren’t tipped–anyone charged with a federal crime has a tough, uphill battle on their hands.
- What if we’re “easy” on terrorists? by allowing them full rights under our rules of criminal procedure? Won’t that encourage more terrorist acts? Maybe so…but think of the reverse situation: what if an American was falsely accused of a terrorist act in a foreign country? Wouldn’t we want our citizen to have all the rights they could possibly have and a fair and open trial? Would we want our citizen tried in secret by some military tribunal?
- Of course, some international criminals will take advantage of us. I still think we should provide the moral example to the world that we respect the right to a fair trial for anyone within our borders.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!!