As cases involving terrorists go, the trial of Sulaiman Abu Graith just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood came and went before most people were even aware of it.
Who knows, perhaps the public was following the search of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane or updating NCAA tournament brackets.
But the trial is notable in part because Abu Graith is one of the sons-in-law of Osama bin Laden. As name recognition goes, that’s almost in a class by itself.
Abu Graith wasn’t just guilty by association, however. He was, according to the chief prosecutor, bin Laden’s “propaganda minister.” It was for his role as al-Qaida’s spokesman that he was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans. Abu Graith could, and should, be sentenced to life in prison.
What’s more remarkable about his trial was that it demonstrated that terrorists can indeed be tried in civilian courts rather than as “enemy combatants” in military tribunals, as is the rule now. Abu Graith is the highest ranking terrorist to be tried in a civilian court, and his trial took place just a year after he was turned over to American authorities in Jordan. This trial lasted three weeks in the heart of New York City, and jurors deliberated just six hours before handing down their verdict. If a terrorist’s trial can ever be considered routine, this one was.
It makes one wonder why the cases of more terrorists — or enemy combatants — aren’t handled this way, though some exceptions are necessary. Foremost among them would be Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Mohammed, who faces the death penalty, won’t be tried in a civilian court because at least some of the evidence against him resulted from his being tortured by the CIA. Unfortunately, CIA objections about the release of information pertaining to torture also is what has kept the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the issue secret.
Though we don’t know precisely, many, if not most, of the detainees against whom there is valid evidence could be tried in civilian court. That would be prudent not just because the cases could finally be dealt with, but because doing so could help restore America’s reputation as a nation that holds justice in high regard.
There is little justice in indefinitely locking up individuals deemed enemy combatants, perhaps forcing some to live the rest of their lives in the prison at Guantanamo Bay without the necessity of proving their guilt.
Justice involving terrorists can be served in civilian courts. Abu Graith’s speedy trial is Exhibit A.