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Thursday, November 18, 2010

If you don't like the verdict, move to another "court"?

In his story in today's New York Times about the acquittal of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one of 285 charges related to the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, reporter Benjamin Weiser states that "the result seems certain to fuel debate about whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists."

Could I pull out my editor's red pencil and change that to "the result seems certain to fuel debate about whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying [alleged] terrorists [who have been subject to torture during their interrogations]."

Ghailani may well have played an important role in the bombings, as prosecutors claim, and he will probably stay in jail for a long time for the one charge he was convicted of. But just because we don't like the verdict doesn't mean we can keep changing the rules of the game until we get an outcome we like.

Nevertheless, the Times is hosting a debate on the subject, and the Obama administration will have one more excuse to continue acting just like the Bush administration when it comes to lowering legal standards for convicting terrorist suspects.

Update: Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo, takes a similar position in a Times op-ed, arguing that a military commission judge probably would have suppressed the same witness evidence that the civilian judge did in this case. While I don't like arguments that are based on pragmatism rather than principle, Davis argues that the two go hand in hand, and most importantly that critics of civilian trials are flat wrong on both counts.


Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

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