Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Message, Not The Messenger

I hardly expected an opinion piece in support of trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts rather by military commissions to be written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), yet that's just what I found in today's Los Angeles Times. Sen. Feinstein is not exactly the most liberal of Democrats, yet even she is aware of the success stories from the federal court system.

After noting the recent guilty pleas from three men in three separate cases, the senator also recites the statistics on similar cases prosecuted in the civilian forum:

Swift guilty pleas and cooperation are hardly the stuff of a weak justice system. And it's important to note that cooperation happens often in federal criminal prosecutions, but not in military commissions. Terrorist conviction statistics, provided by the Justice Department's National Security Division, are impressive:

• By mid-March of this year, 403 terrorism suspects had been tried and convicted in federal district courts since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

• Of these, 159 were convicted of Category I crimes — violations of federal statutes directly related to international terrorism.

• The other 244 were convicted of Category II crimes — violations of fraud, immigration, firearms, drugs and other statutes in cases with identified links to international terrorism.

A dozen of these convicted terrorists were sentenced to life in prison. One was sentenced to 155 years, and 18 others received sentences of 20 years or more.

The average sentence handed down to defendants charged with terrorism, between 2001 and 2009, is 19.7 years, according to the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law.

And all of this happened in a venue bound by constitutional guarantees for the defendants, including the right to know what evidence will be introduced by the prosecution and the right to cross-examine witnesses produced by the prosecution, guarantees that don't exist in the dog-and-pony shows known as military commissions.

Fair trials don't weaken our national security, they enhance it. A dry recitation of the facts may not be as inspiring as a passionate appeal to the brilliance of the US Constitution, but it can be just as effective. It certainly was in this case.

And for that I am grateful to Sen. Feinstein.

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