For Immediate Release
Human Rights First Welcomes Decision to Try 9/11 Defendants in Federal Courts
Cautions Against Continued Use of Military Commissions
WASHINGTON - Human Rights First hails the Obama Administration's decision to move
the trials of the 5 Guantanamo detainees accused in the 9/11 conspiracy
from the discredited Guantanamo military commissions and into federal
courts to face justice. The organization notes that in light of the
impressive track record federal courts have amassed in trying complex
terrorism cases, these transfers are an important step toward
long-delayed justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
"The victims of 9/11 and the American public deserve to see justice
done, and the best way to achieved that is by prosecuting these men in
a credible criminal justice system where the focus will be on their
culpability, not on the legitimacy or fairness of the proceedings,"
said Human Rights First President and Chief Executive Officer Elisa
Massimino. "Moving these cases out of military commissions and into the
federal courts is smart counter-terrorism strategy. It treats the
perpetrators as the criminals they are and deprives them of the warrior
status they crave. This is an important distinction and will help
thwart their ability to recruit others to their cause."
In a recent study – detailed below – of 119 terrorism cases with 289
defendants and filed since 2001 in the normal federal court system,
Human Rights First found that of the 214 defendants whose cases were
resolved as of June 2, 2009, 195 were convicted either by verdict or by
a guilty plea. By contrast, the military commissions are a failed
system that has secured only 3 convictions and their continued use
threatens to perpetuate the legacy of failed trial and detention
policies at Guantanamo.
Military commissions remain vulnerable to criticism, delay,
confusion and justified legal challenges. The new reforms to the system
include some improvements over the previous law, but still fail to
provide many of the fundamental elements of a fair trial. For example,
they continue to permit the admission of coerced testimony obtained at
the point of capture; they use an overbroad definition of who can be
tried before military commissions that includes juveniles and those not
even engaged in hostilities; and they permit defendants to be tried
ex-post facto for conduct not considered to constitute a war crime at
the time it was committed.
In 2008, Human Rights First released In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Court. This
meticulous examination of the ability of federal courts to meet the
challenges of international terrorism prosecutions was researched and
written by former federal prosecutors. It challenges the notion that
new, un-tested legal regimes for terrorism suspects, such as military
commissions, "national security courts," or administrative detention
without trial, are needed. The report is the most thorough examination
to date of federal terrorism cases against those who are "associated —
organizationally, financially, or ideologically — with Islamist
extremist terrorist groups like al Qaeda." It also squarely debunks the
myth that terrorists cannot be securely detained within the United
In a 2009 update of their report,
the authors offer an exhaustive analysis of a newly compiled,
comprehensive database of federal terrorism prosecutions and relevant
federal laws through May 2009. Among the issues addressed in the Pursuit of Justice
update are recent developments in the law prohibiting material support
of terrorism and narco-terrorism prosecutions, in the detention of
suspected terrorists and in balancing the need for due process with the
need to protect classified information.
Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.